Rogue Metal Detectorists On Trial For Stealing $3.6million Treasure
Metal detectorists have made many amazing discoveries down the years in Britain, with a great hoard of 2,600 coins just revealed last month. But there are strict rules regarding archaeological finds made by detectorists. At present, there is a case before the court in Britain where four men are accused of conspiring to conceal and illegally sell a treasure, found by metal detectors.
When Metal Detecting Becomes a Crime
At Worcester Crown Court four men are on trial, accused of stealing a treasure that is worth up to $3.6 million (£3 million). According to the Daily Telegraph , “George Powell, 38, and Layton Davies, 51, are accused of failing to declare a hoard of 1,000 year-old buried valuables they unearthed”. Both men have addresses in Wales.
The pair are experienced metal detectorists and it is alleged that they found a valuable hoard, in a field, near Leominster, Herefordshire. The field is part of the Eye Court Farm.
They did not tell the farmer who owned the land, or the local finds officer as is required by law. The two men were first arrested in relation to the case in 2015.
Under British law, any archaeological find must be reported “to the local coroner as possible treasure” reports the Daily Mirror . It is then appraised by specialists and they will determine if it is a national treasure and its value.
Metal detectorists are required by law to report any discoveries. (C/N N/G / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
British museums have the right to make the first bids on the items. However, it is alleged that Powell and Davies did not do this, with the motive of trying to sell their find at a higher price on the black market.
Paul Wells, 60, and Simon Wicks, 57, were also charged with Powell and Davies with “conspiring to conceal the treasure” reports the Daily Telegraph . Wells and Wicks did not find the treasure, but they are alleged to have enabled the metal detectorists in hiding their find.
Powell, Davis, and Wicks are also charged with attempting to illegally sell the treasure. All of the accused have denied the charges.
Metal Detectorists Hide and Sell the Treasure
Kevin Hegarty (QC) the prosecutor in the case, told the court that Powell and Davies. “knew when they found this material that this was no ordinary find” according to the Daily Mirror . He also told the court that the two, very experienced detectorists, “decided to treat the find as theirs and not to declare it to the landowner, the farmer, or the Crown. In short, they stole it”.
The prosecutor told the court that much of the treasure trove was buried in the ground for over 1,000 years. It had lain undisturbed since before the Norman invasion until the detectorists found it in the summer of 2015. It is alleged that some 300 coins, ingots, and some pieces of jewelry were unearthed, but only 30 coins have been recovered by the police.
Only 30 coins have been recovered by the police. (Fæ / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
This means that many historic coins and pieces of jewelry are missing and they may already have been sold on the black market . The recovered 30 coins were seized from people who had bought the coins and from the defendants’ homes. It is alleged that Wicks “hid some within the handle of a magnifying glass” according to the Daily Mail .
The police were able to establish this because they found photographs on one of the men’s smartphones. In these, the two men are shown digging out a large number of coins and other pieces of treasure.
Furthermore, the accused allegedly bragged to an antique dealer that they had found a great many coins and also ignored his advice to report them to the authorities. The defendants denied that there was a larger hoard.
Medieval Treasure Trove
It is alleged that the original find “consisted of a gold ring, bracelet, and silver ingot from the 9th century, a crystal ball pendant from the 5th century” reports the Daily Telegraph . The court was also told that many of the coins found in the field came from the reign of Alfred the Great . While others came from the time of King Ceolwulf , ruled the Kingdom of Wessex.
Allegedly a 5th century crystal ball pendant was found and hidden by the metal detectorists. (Kotomi_ / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Of the 30 coins that were recovered by police, some are extremely rare and valuable. They include a penny-sized coin, known as a ‘Cross-and-Lozenge’. One coin has an image of what looks like two heads and it is known as a ‘two emperors’ and these are much sought after by collectors. There was also a silver coin from what is now Iran and one showing the Frankish emperor Louis the Pious .
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A silver coin showing the Frankish emperor Louis the Pious was found by the metal detectorists. (World Imaging / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The court was told that dealers from all over the world would have been interested in the coins discovered in the field. The whereabouts of the rest of the treasure are unknown and the alleged missing pieces may never be located. The trial is continuing at Winchester Court.
Top image: Most of the coin hoard that was discovered by metal detectorists is now missing. (Representative image) Source: samiramay / Adobe Stock
By Ed Whelan