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24 September 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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   Coming Up : Inside Out - East: Friday March 23, 2007
Castle Ashby
"Hungary can say what it likes. It doesn't alter the fact it does not own the treasure."
Ludovic de Walden

Sevso treasure

Castle Ashby is the spectacular family seat of the Marquess of Northampton.

But its glorious facade hides a grim financial reality - it's losing money - and lots of it.

To save his family heritage, Spencer Compton, the 7th Marquess, says he needs to sell the world's most stunning collection of Roman silver.

But the treasure worth millions is gathering dust in a secret vault, at the centre of an international tug of war.

Tug of war

The story starts in Hungary near the town of Polgardy.

Legend has it that a fabulous collection of silver was housed at a Roman palace, belonging to a nobleman called Sevso.

The site is now dominated by an open quarry.

Quarry in Hungary
The quarry in Hungary - connected to the treasure?

Thirty years ago, according to locals, a young quarry worker - Jozsef Sumeargh - hit something hard in the ground with his shovel.

They believed it was the Sevso silver - treasure beyond his wildest dreams.

Bela Vukan, a detective with Hungary's National Bureau of Investigation, took Inside Out to the spot, in an old wine cellar, where it's rumoured, Jozsef kept the hoard hidden in a hole in the ground.

But it wasn't long before the Sevso curse claimed its first victim.

Jozsef was found hanged... just inches away from his dazzling find, which then vanished.

Suicide or suspicious death?

The official version was that Jozsef committed suicide.

Silverware
Fabulous Roman craftsmanship on one of the pieces

But Bela Vukan does not believe this.

He showed us how the hanging theory has been tested - and believes that Jozsef could not have killed himself with the belt he was supposed to have used:

"In 1980 the case was closed and recorded as suicide.

"But in 1990, after local rumours were investigated, I came to the conclusion this was not suicide - this was a case of murder."

Shortly after Jozsef's mysterious death, pieces of the Sevso silver started to appear on the London market.

Lord Northampton bought all 14 pieces, for around £10 million.

In 1990, he put them up for sale in New York, but he was in for a shock.

The sale was halted by the Republic of Hungary which claimed ownership.

Trail of silver

Dick Ellis, a former Scotland Yard detective, now living in retirement in Suffolk, was asked to investigate the trail of the silver.

He thinks the Hungarians have a strong case:

"From the evidence I've seen, the only country which has come up with a substantial degree of evidence is Hungary.

"The Hungarians have produced substantial evidence that it (the Sevso silver) originated in their territory."

Lord Northampton
Nightmare - Northampton has argued his case for 25 years

Lord Northampton himself won't be interviewed about what he calls his 25 year nightmare.

Instead, his lawyer Ludovic de Walden argues his case for the Sevso treasure:

"Hungary can say what it likes. It doesn't alter the fact it does not own the treasure.

"It belongs to the Marquess of Northampton Trust settlement of 1987. And unless, and until, someone comes along to unseat his title, it belongs to the Trust."

So, Hungary's claim remains unresolved.

But for Dick Ellis, one thing is for certain - the movement of the silver to London involved fraud, deception and theft by ruthless middlemen.

Investigation

The police investigation then turned towards Lord Northampton:

"We received a telephone call from Ludovic de Walden begging us not to arrest his client because, frankly, that was our next step.

"And we were then able to talk to Lord Northampton and he was able to do something he had always wanted to do - that was to actually talk to us."

After which, Lord Northampton was cleared of any wrong doing... but in Budapest the campaign for the silver's ownership was stepping up.

The silver collection
Tainted treasure? Who really owns the silver collection?

The Hungarians claim to have more evidence the treasure is theirs.

They believe a silver folding table - called a quadruped - held at the museum is part of the Sevso treasure.

It's the same age and was found in the same place - the craftsmanship is very similar.

They want to see it re-united with the rest of the treasure at their national museum.

Zsolt Mrav, Museum Curator told Inside Out:

"We strongly believe that the silver folding table from Polgardi is connected with the Sevso silver because of its similarity in decoration; because of its date; its style and, mainly, its provenance.

"If it came to Hungary I would be very, very pleased.

"Then I'm sure the Sevso treasure, along with the folding table, would be exhibited very soon. Probably in the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest, which is one of the oldest museums in Europe."

That doesn't cut any ice with Lord Northampton.

It's understood that he values the collection at between £50-100 million.

So far the Hungarians have offered nothing like that sum.

Put up or shut up

Ludovic de Walden says it's time they put up or shut up:

"Look, the position of Hungary is no different from anyone else interested in buying the treasure.

"The treasure has always been available for sale. It remains available for sale.

"It's Lord Northampton's intention to sell it within his lifetime.

"If the Hungarians were serious about entering into negotiations then, of course, we would.

"The problem with Hungary is that we see no evidence of seriousness. If the Hungarians have got a change of heart, they know where I am."

But as things stand, with the ownership in dispute, no one is likely to want to pay anything for the treasure.

Silver treasure
Secret of the silverware - we may never know the full story

The name Sevso is thought to derive from the name of the Roman General, whose villa once housed the original collection.

One of the big hunting plates contains this dedication:

"May these - Oh Sevso - yours for many ages be, small vessels fit to serve your offspring worthily."

We'll probably never know if the Sevso silver actually served anyone - worthily or otherwise.

What we do know is that a compromise will have to be reached before the Curse of the Sevso silver becomes the blessing it was originally designed to be.

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Driver in car
How reliable is the mileage on second hand cars?

Car clocking

Inside Out exposes the rogue traders who use the internet to sell second hand cars with curiously low mileage.

We reveal the results of a four month undercover investigation into the murky world of second hand car sales.

Also read our behind the scenes diary looking at how we broke this story.

Dodgy motors?

Mention second hand car salesmen and you conjure up an image of Arthur Daly and his trademark camel hair coat selling a few dodgy motors to unsuspecting punters.

But nowadays unscrupulous car dealers are using far more sophisticated methods to con us out of our cash.

The Inside Out team wanted to see how easy it was to purchase a car and then increase its value by taking miles off the car's clock.

The investigation started at a car auction in Bourne in Lincolnshire.

Clocker in action
Inside Out filmed this car clocker in action

Inside Out bought a high mileage car typical of the type that crooks identify as a potential licence to print money.

The Vauxhall Vectra had just over a 100,000 miles on the clock.

Finding the "experts" prepared to reduce the car's mileage was the next step - and it proved remarkably easy.

A quick search on the Internet revealed dozens of "mileage correction services".

The team picked three to come out to the garage where the Vectra was being kept.

The "clockers" were secretly filmed plugging their hand held computers into the car's engine management system.

A total of 60,000 miles simply vanished.

Second hand worries

Surprisingly these car clocking services aren't illegal - it's selling a clocked car that breaks the law.

But there are plenty of people prepared to do just that as Keith Regan from Leicestershire Trading Standards explains:

"They cheat people and run away and no-one knows where they are. The car clockers that we have come across put a lot of effort into deceiving.

"They make the story line look as though it is a genuine car as if it has been owned and cherished by that individual."

Online sites have thousands of second hand cars for sale.

It's impossible to tell how many of those vehicles have been clocked.

Paul Cropper
Past owner Paul Cropper - surprised to find car clocking

An Inside Out researcher went to an address in Leicestershire where the woman was selling an MG ZT estate car.

She claimed it had 90,000 miles on the clock.

The paperwork seemed to be in order, but once the previous owner was tracked down to Derby, her story unravelled.

Previous owner Paul Cropper told us he had part exchanged the car with 104,000 miles on the clock only two months before:

He said, "What surprises me is that this is for sale with 94,000 miles on the clock - it had got 125,000 on it when I sold it."

The case is now in the hand of Leicestershire's Trading Standards department.

Faking it

The team also discovered how easy it is to fake a car's history.

The clocked Vectra had no trouble getting a new MOT with the wrong mileage on the certificate.

The new computer system brought in by the government doesn't record a car's mileage history.

Crushed Vectra
Under the crusher - the Vectra ends up at the dump

Service records can be easily faked using stamps and documents that are sold on the Internet

After a decent valet the RAC's Ed Richards assessed our car's new value.

He said, "It would be on the forecourt for a thousand pounds plus. You have certainly doubled its value for the cost of a mileage correction service."

The next step would have been placing the car for sale on the Internet but the Inside Out team found a better home for their dodgy motor - the scrap yard!

Top consumer tips

If you are buying a used car and are worried about the mileage, look for signs which indicate a well-travelled vehicle:

* A shiny steering wheel/gear lever.
* Worn pedal rubbers/driver’s seat/carpet.
* Lots of chips on the bonnet.

You can also get the car examined by a vehicle history-checking company.

They will be able to tell you whether it has been clocked, stolen, written-off, or has outstanding finance, using some basic information about the car.

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Colchester earthquake

Around 300 earthquakes are detected in Britain each year.

The most destructive earthquake every recorded here was in Essex on the morning of 22 April 1884.

The tremor was felt over much of southern England and parts of France and Belgium and its magnitude has been estimated as 5.2 on the Richter Scale.

There was considerable damage to over 1,200 buildings in Essex, mostly in Colchester.

Julie Reinger traces what happened and finds out if it could happen again.



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