Walsingham pilgrimage site snowdrop thief jailed

Snowdrops at Walsingham Abbey, Norfolk
Image caption About 13,000 snowdrop bulbs were stolen from the grounds of Walsingham Abbey in Norfolk

Two men have been sentenced for stealing thousands of snowdrops in a "nocturnal raid" on a pilgrimage site.

Peter Gibbs, 31, and Stefan Simpson, 30, took nearly 13,000 flower bulbs worth nearly £1,500 from the Walsingham Estate in Norfolk in March.

The pair, from the Wisbech area in Cambridgeshire, had admitted theft and criminal damage at a previous hearing.

Simpson was jailed for 10 months for his "leading role", and Gibbs was ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work.

The ruins of the medieval priory of Our Lady of Walsingham have been a pilgrimage site since the middle ages, and the estate styles itself as "England's Nazareth".

The snowdrops which carpet the grounds of the 18-acre estate are well known and draw visitors in the springtime.

Image caption Sacks of snowdrop bulbs were recovered from a vehicle stopped by police

Prosecutor Ben Brighouse told Norwich Crown Court said the men's van was stopped by police at 02:00 BST on 13 March.

"Inside the vehicle were multiple bags containing what's estimated to be around 13,000 snowdrop flower bulbs, valued at just shy of £1,500," he said.

In interview, Simpson said "a member of the Traveller community" had told him he could earn £10 a bag for picking the flower bulbs.

He then recruited Gibbs to help him, and a driver for the van, who was later formally cautioned by police.

Judge Anthony Bate said the men had carried out a "nocturnal raid" on a "cherished location".

Simpson, of Lilac Close, Walsoken, was jailed for eight months for theft and two months for breaching a suspended sentence from January 2018 for driving while disqualified.

He was sentenced to one month for criminal damage, to run concurrently.

Gibbs, of Colvile Road, Newton in the Isle, was also given a three-month curfew to run between 20:00 and 06:00.

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