Great Britain

UK metal detectorists guilty of theft after concealing £3m hoard

Two metal detectorists who unearthed an astonishing hoard of gold jewellery, silver ingots and coins buried more than 1,000 years ago by a Viking warrior in Herefordshire have been found guilty of theft.

George Powell and Layton Davies should legally have declared the find, estimated to be worth more than £3m, but instead they began to show it to dealers and tried to sell parts of it off.

Among the jewellery, which dated from the fifth to ninth centuries, was a ring, an arm bracelet and a small crystal ball held by strips of gold that would have been worn as a pendant.

The jewellery and one ingot have been recovered but the vast majority of the 300 Anglo-Saxon coins that police believe were found remain unaccounted for, to the frustration and anger of historians who see the hoard as hugely important.

Powell and Davies made the discovery on land owned by Lord Cawley near Leominster in June 2015. They did not speak to the authorities about their discovery but set about selling the coins, Worcester crown court heard.

They showed them to a coin dealer in Cardiff, Paul Wells. Police later found five of the coins at his home.

Simon Wicks, an antiques dealer and metal detectorist from East Sussex, was asked to help them sell the coins, the prosecution said. They included two extremely rare “Two Emperors” depicting King Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ceolwulf II of Mercia.

Wicks took them to a dealership in Mayfair, central London. An expert gasped when he saw the coins and valued each of the Two Emperors at £100,000.

Rumours began to circulate about the find. The gold and one ingot was handed over but police have recovered only 30 of the 300 coins.

Gareth Williams, a specialist at the British Museum on the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings, said it was a great shame that the detectorists had not declared the find and that a large part of it was still missing.

“It’s not just a theft of the items,” he said. “If we don’t recover everything it’s a theft of our history. The stupidity is that our treasure system is the most generous in the world in terms of providing rewards for those who abide by the law.

“These men would be rich by now if they had done things by the book. They have chosen not to and in doing so have destroyed an important part of our history. It’s difficult to feel any sympathy for them at all; they have been greedy and selfish and the nation is the loser.”

Powell, 38, of Newport, south Wales, and Layton Davies, 51, of Pontypridd, south Wales, denied stealing the jewellery, ingots and coins. Along with the antiques dealer Simon Wicks, 57, of Hailsham, East Sussex, they denied conspiracy to convert criminal property. The three, plus Wells, 60, of Cardiff, also denied conspiracy to conceal criminal property.

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