A FIRE-ravaged derelict mill in the Bradford district is effectively ownerless under an "unusual" and "arcane" law, the Telegraph & Argus has learned.

In the last week, police launched two arson probes after separate fires hit Dalton Mills in Keighley.

The latest blazes further damaged the Grade II*-listed building, which was struck by a huge fire in 2022, resulting in two teenagers being charged with arson earlier this year. The two 17-year-olds, who cannot be named for legal reasons, are next due to appear in court in August.

Now, enquiries made by the T&A since the new fires have uncovered that the 19th Century complex - which was used as a set for the filming of Peaky Blinders - is subject to a little-known legal process known as 'escheat'.

Firefighters at Dalton Mills earlier this week

Land Registry documents show that Dalton Mills was bought by Bellissimo Investments Limited, of Northampton, for £10,000 in 2013.

But after that company was dissolved via a compulsory strike-off in 2021, Dalton Mills automatically passed to the Crown.

Two years later, the Treasury Solicitor disclaimed - or gave up - Dalton Mills to the Crown Estate, leaving the property to become subject to escheat, which means it effectively became ownerless.

The Crown Estate described the process of escheat as "unusual".

It has not been revealed exactly why Dalton Mills was disclaimed by the Treasury Solicitor, but the Government said such an action may happen for various reasons - including when a property is in a dangerous state.

According to the Crown Estate, when an asset is subject to escheat, the Crown Estate is "not able to take any action which might be construed as an act of management, possession or ownership in relation to the property" - such as carrying out repairs - as it may incur liabilities.

The Crown Estate cannot consent to works being carried out by a third party on escheat property. However, it will not interfere with any works being carried out by an "appropriate body", such as Bradford Council, as local authorities have lawful powers to make dangerous buildings and structures safe.

A Bradford Council spokesperson said: "Bradford Council does not own any part of the Dalton Mill complex. Dalton Mills is currently being held by the Crown Estate.

"The Council does not have a duty to keep the site secure. However, we do have some statutory responsibilities regarding dangerous structures - including those affected by fire damage - and can take action to remove any danger."

The spokesperson said any such action on this occasion would depend on the outcome of a structural assessment, which is still underway after the recent fires.

"Dalton Mills is a key heritage building in the heart of Keighley and we remain supportive of efforts to preserve and restore it," the spokesperson said.

They added that the Council would liaise with any future owner of the site "regarding its long-term future".

The 2022 fire at Dalton Mills

A spokesperson for Historic England - which aims to protect listed buildings - said: "Following the recent fires at Dalton Mills, we are working with Bradford Council and the fire and police services on approaches to improving security at the site."

A West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said: "We're supportive of our partners and stakeholders getting security at the site to a standard where the risk of fire is minimised. This will help to reduce the risk both to our firefighters and the public and the historic building."

A spokesperson for West Yorkshire Police said officers were continuing to appeal for witnesses following the latest fires, and urged anyone who was in the area from the evening of June 9 into June 10 to come forward, quoting crime reference 13240310081.

Any individual or company interested in buying escheat property - such as Dalton Mills - should contact law firm Burges Salmon, which acts for the Crown Estate on such matters. Burges Salmon described escheat as an "arcane aspect of our legal system".

Once the largest textile mill in Yorkshire - employing more than 2,000 workers - Dalton Mills was built by Joseph Craven in 1869, replacing the original mill from the 1780s.

As well Peaky Blinders, it has also been used for Downton Abbey, The Great Train Robbery and the 2016 film The Limehouse Golem, starring Bill Nighy.