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Four men convicted of looting medieval English treasure hoard

British courts have convicted four men in a plot to steal a treasure hoard dating back to the ninth and tenth centuries. 

In 2015 they had looted a treasure hoard which contained a mixture of intact ornaments, bullion and coins, which is typical of Viking hoards of the 9th and 10th centuries in Britain. It included a pendant made from a sphere of rock crystal bound with gold, a gold finger-ring, a gold arm-ring, silver ingots (bars) and coins.

Amongst the coins were several examples of a type which is helping scholars to rewrite English history. The two Emperors type was issued by King Alfred the Great of Wessex (871-99) and his lesser known contemporary Ceolwulf II of Mercia (874-9), and shows two Roman emperors standing side by side, symbolising an alliance between the two kings. Historical sources, mostly written at Alfred’s court some years later, portray Ceolwulf in a very different light, as a puppet of the Vikings. Although other examples have been found since the Eye hoard, the type was only known at that point from a single example in the name of each king.

Two men – George Powell and Layton Davies – have been found guilty of theft, conspiring to conceal criminal property and conspiring to convert criminal property. Simon Wicks was found guilty of conspiring to conceal criminal property and conspiring to convert criminal property and Paul Wells was found guilty of conspiring to conceal criminal property.

The men were arrested after an extensive investigation by West Mercia Police, who were alerted to the possibility of an unreported large treasure find by various reports from the metal detecting community and the British Museum. A find such as this should be reported to the local Coroner’s office, in this case Herefordshire, under the terms of the Treasure Act (1996).

During the investigation, which began in June 2015, Herefordshire detectives unearthed that Powell and Davies had visited the site at where the hoard was found.

“This has been a lengthy and detailed investigation that I am pleased to see has resulted in four men being found guilty of the crimes and we await sentencing tomorrow,” said Superintendent Sue Thomas, Herefordshire’s Local policing commander. “I hope the result from this trial demonstrates to the metal detecting community we take this sort of crime very seriously. It is a criminal offence to not declare finds of treasure to the local coroner’s office.”

Double emperor coin – photo courtesy West Mercia Police

Detective Constable Nigel Cleeton, investigating officer for the operation, added “In all my policing years of service this is the most unusual investigation I have been involved in. We have had archaeologist advisers from Herefordshire County Council’s conservation and environment team, the British Museum and a plethora of experts to help identify items. We believe there are coins outstanding and would appeal to anyone that may have come across these items or has any information to get in touch via 101.”

Gareth Williams, Curator of Medieval Coins and Viking Collections at the British Museum commented, “I am pleased that this case has now been resolved after four years of police investigation. This is an unusual and important find, both in terms of what it can tell us about the history of the period, and because some of the individual objects are so rare and beautiful.”

“Discoveries such as this are an important part of our national heritage, and the Treasure Act (1996) is designed to ensure that such finds can be acquired by museums for the benefit of the general public, rather than being quietly sold on the black market. Britain has the most generous system in the world for rewarding finders when they follow the law. Unfortunately this needs to be balanced with suitable penalties when they do not.”

Top Image: Some of the artefacts recovered – photo courtesy West Mercia Police

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