By Nigel Swift


There is more than enough on the net about the magnificent Crosby Garrett Roman helmet and the one thing anyone Googling it will realise is that everyone – whether they are a detectorist, archaeologist or human being – will think the reported circumstances of its alleged discovery, form, removal, provenance, secrecy, find spot, restoration, marketing and reporting are mighty rum – and that all of those are all the more concerning in view of the fact the system we have means that we have to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds to pay to the finder and landowner else they might squeeze it under an export ban and heroically sell it to the highest bidder abroad.

The intransigent landowner is being blamed but I rather doubt he’s the main mover. After all, it belonged, legally, 100% to him and the finder’s claim to half presumably rests on him having signed a 50-50 share agreement with the owner. I’d LOVE that agreement to be tested in the Courts. Most of the ones I’ve seen are more like con-tricks than contracts, with one party being less than aware of what it really said. Research them if you don’t believe me (or read this previous article!), they’re dodgy as hell.

(Incidentally, you’ll see from that article that a VERY bizarre situation might apply to this helmet. If the agreement is the commonly used one available through various detecting websites and therefore contains this clause: ““In consideration of payment of 50% of the value of any Treasure Property found the owner/occupier hereby grants to the licensee the right to enter the said land (which land is called the licensed area) and subject to the conditions herein to search for treasure, metals, buried coins and artefacts” then actually the contract gives the detectorist rights to the WHOLE of this helmet and the landowner none of it – because it isn’t Treasure!  OK, it ain’t gonna happen in this blaze of publicity  but it does indicate how easy it is for one party to deprive another party of money purely because one party knows more than the other – and who can doubt that in the case of less high profile  and less valuable finds that’s exactly what happens en masse day in day out. If it’s not Treasure it’s mine says the agreement. Why else would that clause be there but to say exactly that by default as it’s pointless for any other reason since there’s no need to contract to comply with the Treasure Act is there? So, outreaching to landowners is FAR more important than to detectorists, IMO, and urgently required. They need putting in the picture. ) 

So how about it before we the taxpayer and we the generous public scrape our purses: let the museum request to see the finds agreement and then get some top, top legal advice on whether it’s enforcable or ought to be disregarded as unfair to one of the parties. After all, if finders are willing to use the strict letter of the law to squeeze every last penny out of the community cannot the community do the same to save a few quid? Just think, we and the museums might only have to be dealing with ONE vendor – and he might be quite happy not to demand the maximum ransom from us!

Fifty-fifty indeed, when it’s not their land or their artefacts! It’s too much. A reasonable man (and a reasonable judge) might say 90 – 10 in the landowners favour is more appropriate – and 100 – 0 if he wasn’t fully aware of the contract’s nuances! What greedy heroes detectorists are! They’ve taken their lead from the Treasure Act, which suggests equal rewards for both parties, but those are rewards, this is a matter of contract law and ownership! Gloves off to resolutely defend both the public purse and the public’s vital cultural interest – what nobler use could there be for lawyers?!!  Let’s see if they say the legal aspects, like everything else surrounding this matter,  are rum!


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting