Last month we suggested Glasgow University’s Encyclopaedia entry on nighthawking is incomplete as they quote only four categories: Not declaring potential Treasure finds, Searching without permission, Detecting on scheduled monuments and Not disclosing finds to a landowner (except if prior-agreed). In our opinion they’ve missed a fifth, very significant one: Not disclosing the true value of finds to a landowner (constituting theft).
It really matters. Consider this: The Establishment encourages each landowner to sign a “finds agreement” giving away much of his property in advance “to avoid future disputes over ownership” even though he already owns it all so there can never be a dispute. Worse, they have left it to detectorists to compose the agreements and unsurprisingly they’re mostly excruciatingly unfair, decreeing they alone can rule whether to show and share each find depending on whether they alone judge it worth over £300 (or £2,000 under the awful rule used by Central Searchers.)
Incredibly, that’s the basis on which most artefacts, tens of millions of pounds worth a year, end up 100% owned by detectorists with the landowner never having seen them. It beggars belief why anyone would think it was fair to ask a landowner to agree to such a system. The detectorist may be honest but some are not and the agreements are a perfect way to steal, simply through grossly undervaluing finds (just in their own minds, not even out loud!) as a means to avoid showing or sharing them. Who could doubt that false valuation is likely to comprise the dominant (and most convenient and lucrative) element of nighthawking and the one that causes most cultural damage (for having stolen the items the culprit is hardly likely to report them to PAS!). Well, Glasgow University, it seems!
Their Encyclopaedia stance certainly looks pretty irrational: not disclosing finds is nighthawking, not disclosing value isn’t! Explain that to the poor old landowner! It also has damaging consequences for the rest of us as it renders comfortable The Establishment’s silence-cum-complicity in the whole unregulated finds agreement system and causes the knock-on consequence of finds not being reported to PAS. Maybe the University will reconsider. The omission isn’t merely academic it has real-world negative consequences in real-world Bonkers Britain. Everyone knows that scrofulous behaviour often gets ignored for political reasons but surely academia is above all that?
Update 18 August 2014
French thieves should have followed the Glasgow University line!
Three French builders who stumbled across 16 gold bars and gold coins worth £700,200 while working on a house in Normandy are to stand trial for keeping the trove without telling the owners ….
Numbskulls! If only they’d got the owners to sign a finds agreement like thousands of British metal detectorists do, saying “If we find something and we alone judge it is worth less than £300 we can keep it and tell no-one about it“! In Britain the authorities don’t say a word about such contracts so they must presumably be OK.