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Police recently detained three men with metal detectors in a Sussex wood at almost midnight. They were charged with breaching covid regulations but surprisingly, not of nighthawking. Presumably, that was because they said they had permission to metal detect there. But at midnight? In a wood? Which farmer gives permission expecting people will be creeping about his land at midnight?

It goes to show that exact wording is important. Neither the official code nor PAS’s advice documents contain phrases like “but not after 8.00pm”. They should, for anything found late at night can’t be brought to the owner and is therefore taken straight home, with obvious negative implications for the owner and the likelihood finds will be reported to PAS.

It would be easy for the PAS to stress to farmers the importance of setting a time limit on permissions. Had it happened in this case those midnight detectorists would also have faced charges of nighthawking since they couldn’t claim they were there with permission. Instead, what walked like a duck wasn’t charged with being a duck and everyone lost, except the ducks.


Midnight amateur historians


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


March 2021

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