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Jewellery in a handbag at Sydney airport– a golden opportunity for a thief

The jewellery goes missing

John and Sally travelled with their two children to Sydney in early 2014 to attend a family member’s engagement party. On 3 February 2014 the family was returning home to Christchurch from Sydney. Sally discovered on the flight home that she was missing a large amount of gold jewellery and spectacles (worth $7,300), from her handbag. John and Sally submitted a claim seeking replacement of the jewellery and spectacles, to their travel insurer, Travelin’sure. Sally and John said that the jewellery and spectacles had fallen or been stolen from Sally’s handbag.


The insurance company’s view

Travelin’sure declined the claim. In its view, John and Sally’s version of events had changed when they were explaining what had happened. Travelin’sure also said that only some of the jewellery was reported as stolen to the Christchurch police on 4 February 2014 (being within 24 hours after it was discovered the jewellery was missing), when the policy required a report to be filed about all the missing jewellery. The rest of the jewellery was reported as stolen to the Police on 5 February 2014. Lastly, Travelin’sure said that there was no feasible explanation given as to how or when the jewellery was lost or stolen.


Travelin’sure also had an investigator meet John and Sally. The investigator said that the there was no damage to the handbag. The investigator also asked John to provide a record of the call he said he had made to Christchurch airport upon learning that the jewellery was missing. John said he was unable to provide a record of the call as he called form work, and he did not want to involve his employer. Travel’insure also said there were inconsistencies in what John and Sally had said about whether John had made the telephone call to Christchurch airport.


In short, Travel’insure was of the view there were inconsistencies in John and Sally’s explanation of what happened, and there was insufficient proof that the jewellery was actually stolen. This was a ‘he said she said’ situation. In these situations, FSCL weighs the evidence from both parties and decides on the balance of probabilities, (that is, whether it is more likely than not), that the complainant’s view is correct.


The evidence

Our case manager interviewed Sally over the telephone. Information that emerged from the interview included:

  • Sally said that when she discovered the jewellery was missing from her handbag when she was on the plane, she only told her family that her spectacles were missing. When she arrived back home in Christchurch she said she was completely stressed. Sally said she did not want to tell John everything that was missing because he would get very angry and start telling her off. She told John about some of the items being missing, and this ‘ignited him very much’.
  • Sally said that when she went to work on the morning of 4 February 2014, she did not realise that John would contact the Christchurch Police that day. She said if she had known he would contact the Police she would have ‘sat down nicely’ with John and discussed that all the jewellery was missing.
  • Our case manager asked why there were no pictures of Sally wearing the jewellery at the engagement party. Sally said this was because she only wore this particular jewellery when she was with friends, and not at family events. She had taken other jewellery (which was not stolen) to wear to the engagement party. Sally was unable to provide any photographs of her wearing the jewellery with her friends in Sydney on this particular trip, even though the purpose of taking the jewellery was specifically to wear while out with her friends in Sydney.
  • Sally said that the small pouch with this jewellery in it was at the top of the middle compartment of her handbag. She remembered last seeing the pouch with the jewellery in it in the handbag when she went to the toilet at Sydney airport. Sally said she closed the middle compartment of the handbag when she left the toilet.
  • Sally did not remember anything unusual when she was moving around the airport; she did not feel anything bumping into her shoulder. Sally said that while she was shopping she may have put down her handbag , which remained in her sight, so that she could look at items of clothing. She also said she opened and closed her bag several times to get her wallet.
  • Sally said that when she discovered the jewellery was missing on the flight she knew it must have been lost/stolen while at Sydney airport because she looked around her plane seat and in her bag, and could not see the pouch. She also said that while she may have been distracted or fallen asleep on the flight she felt the jewellery must not have been lost or stolen on the flight because she never got up from her seat and her family was around her. She said she hoped someone would hand the jewellery into the Police at Sydney airport.


John and Sally also provided a letter from their friend in Australia who said that Sally was wearing the jewellery while they were out in Sydney during this trip.


Our decision

Taking into account all of the evidence, we found that the allegation of inconsistency in relation to the telephone call to Christchurch airport was unfounded. The way the correspondence was worded showed that Sally was saying that she never made a call to Christchurch airport, because she did not think it was important. Sally was not saying that John did not make the call (although we found there was no evidence of him calling).


However, we said that it was reasonable in the circumstances for John and Sally to prove they had the jewellery with them in Australia, especially as the jewellery was taken for the specific purpose to be worn by Sally while out with her friends in Sydney.


We also said it was unfortunate that all the jewellery was not reported as missing to the Christchurch Police at the same time. We also found it difficult to reconcile Sally’s statements that she did not realise it was that important to contact the Police in Christchurch, and her statement that she hoped that someone would have handed in her jewellery to the Police at Sydney airport. Moreover, John and Sally never contacted Sydney airport about the missing jewellery.


We understood that Sally felt very uncomfortable telling John that all the jewellery had been lost. But we were of the view Sally could have contacted the Christchurch Police, Christchurch airport, or Sydney airport without John knowing.


Lastly, there was no solid explanation given by John and Sally about how the jewellery was lost or stolen. Sally said she had put her bag down several times to look at clothes and that she opened and closed the bag. However, she said that the jewellery was in the middle compartment of the bag and that the compartment was zipped. We thought that if a thief had to unzip the middle compartment and take the jewellery out of the bag, it was difficult to see how this would go un-noticed by Sally, even when she put the bag down on the ground to look at clothes (because it was still close to her).


On balance, we decided that John and Sally’s claim should not be upheld. This was because there was insufficient evidence that John and Sally had the jewellery with them in Australia, and on the balance of probabilities we thought it was unlikely the jewellery had been stolen from the handbag.