Detectorists jailed for £3m Viking hoard theft

media captionThe history stolen by metal detectorists

Two metal detectorists have been jailed for stealing a £3m Viking hoard.

George Powell and Layton Davies uncovered about 300 coins in a field in Eye, near Leominster, Herefordshire, in 2015, but did not declare the treasure, instead selling it to dealers.

They were convicted of theft and concealing their find, with Powell, 38, jailed for 10 years and Layton, 51, for eight-and-a-half.

Sentencing, Judge Nicholas Cartwright said they had "cheated" the public.

Coin seller Simon Wicks, 56, was also convicted on the concealment charge and jailed for five years.

A fourth defendant, Paul Wells, 60, also convicted of concealing the find - who became unwell during Thursday's hearing - will be sentenced on 23 December.

The hoard included a 9th Century gold ring, a dragon's head bracelet, a silver ingot and a crystal rock pendant.

Just 31 coins - worth between £10,000 and £50,000 - and some pieces of jewellery have been found, but the majority is still missing.

Experts say the coins, which are Saxon and believed to have been hidden by a Viking, provide fresh information about the unification of England and show there was an alliance previously not thought to exist between the kings of Mercia and Wessex.

image captionLayton Davies and George Powell were jailed for eight and a half years and 10 years respectively

Sentencing the three defendants at Worcester Crown Court on Friday, the judge told them they had "cheated the farmer, his mother, the landowner and also the public".

"That is because the treasure belongs to the nation," he said.

"The benefit to the nation is these items can be seen and admired by others."

The judge told Powell and Davies the "irony in this case" was that if they had obtained the correct permission they would have gone on to receive up to half the £3m value of the hoard between them.

He told them: "But you wanted more".

image copyrightWest Mercia Police
image captionPaul Wells and Simon Wicks were both convicted on the concealment charge

When Powell, of Newport, and Davies, of Pontypridd, made their discovery in June 2015, they did not inform the farmer who owned the field and instead contacted dealers to find out the worth of the items and, a month later, contacted the National Museum of Wales but only declared one coin each and three items of jewellery.

Their trial heard the detectorists had been meeting Wicks, from Hailsham, and Wells, from Cardiff, to release the coins on to the market.

Only 31 of the coins have been recovered, although photographs on Davies' mobile phone - later deleted, but recovered by police - showed the larger hoard, still intact, in a freshly-dug hole.

image copyrightWest Mercia Police
image captionGareth Williams, curator of early medieval coins at the British Museum, has described it as "one of the most important, if not the most important, finds"

A victim impact statement - jointly signed by Judy Stevenson from Herefordshire Museum Service, Tim Hoverd the archaeological projects manager at Herefordshire Council and the county's finds liaison officer Peter Reavill - said the defendants had caused "significant and irreversible harm" to the site.

"As a direct result of these actions we may never be able to ascertain the precise sequence of events which relates to the burial or the relationship between the individual artefacts to the hoard," they said.

It said the find was the most "significant link" to this period of Herefordshire's history found to date and, had it been properly recorded and locally displayed, could have brought much tourism to the county.

It added the failure by the defendants to reveal exactly where the hoard was found - or where the rest of it went - meant Historic England had to fund a "large-scale project" to try to discover if it was a single find or from a number of locations.

image captionA victim impact statement said Historic England had funded "large-scale" project to try and discover more about the find

Powell's barrister James Tucker told the judge his client - a father of two, described as having the "leading" role - was not "in a position to assist" with the recovery of the rest of the hoard.

He added: "It is clear, from his point of view, he wishes he had never found the treasure.

"It became a temptation - and for him a curse."

There will be a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing next year.

Det Con Nigel Cleeton, investigating officer from West Mercia Police, said: "In all my policing years of service this is the most unusual investigation I have been involved in."

He said the force appealed to anyone who may have come across the outstanding coins to come forward.

image copyrightWest Mercia Police
image captionMost of the estimated 300 coins believed to be in the hoard are still missing

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