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by Nigel Swift

A well-known detectorist just saidI only write to major landowners who want things done properly in terms of “documentation”. The majority of farmers much prefer to see the whites of your eyes.By “documentation” he means a written contract. Many detectorists don’t offer one and stress instead that “trust” is paramount. As does this character:

“Alright mate. Sorry to hear your grandad has died. I’ll clear his garage for you if you like – no paperwork, no charge. I’ll just take the stuff. And oh yes, if I come across anything valuable I’ll tell you. ‘Course I will. Look at the whites of my eyes”.

“Alright mate?  Sorry to hear your grandad has died. I’ll clear his garage for you if you like – no paperwork, no charge. I’ll just take the stuff. And oh yes, if I come across anything valuable I’ll tell you. ‘Course I will. Look at the whites of my eyes”.

Such characters are often featured on Crimewatch. In stark contrast the authorities are silent about the thousands of detectorists who don’t sign contracts (or offer blatantly unfair ones that leave them free to take almost everything home unseen). The words “just trust me” can never be uttered with the farmer’s interest in mind so shouldn’t The Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage et al be pointing that out? After all, they are assiduous in warning landowners about the other, far less numerous “no contract” detectorists, the nighthawks. 

It’s a fair question that I anticipate will be entirely ignored. Why?

(Incidentally, the Moderator of the “UK and European Metal Detecting Forum has just said that “Its probable that only about 5% of all detectorists use a contract”. Does officialdom seriously believe farmers and society are ripped off more by nighthawks than by a proportion of those 9,500 “no contract” daytime artefact hunters? I very much doubt it but such is the official pretence in Britain: lots of condemnation of the former, echoing silence about the latter. Barmy.)



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


English Heritage (EH) have recently made a big splash in the media on the release of their latest ‘Heritage at Risk‘ register, which lists heritage assets deemed to be in danger from deterioration, damage, development or other threats.

When I contacted EH some years ago to enquire, I was told that the vast majority of Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs) in England are lucky if they are officially inspected once a decade. Some are never visited officially, and many can go 20 years or more without any official inspection. Frequently the responsible body will rely upon reports from landowners, the public or police regarding any damage that occurs to a site. The response given to a Freedom of Information request to EH earlier this year shows that what I was told nearly a decade ago still holds true today (check some of the ‘Last Visited Dates in any random spreadsheet in the reply).

But now we’d like to change all that, with your help.


We know that many of our readers visit SAMs and other heritage sites on a regular basis, be it a local site that they’re familiar with, or a site that has been selected as the target of a day trip, or holiday visit to an unfamiliar area. All we ask is that when on such visits, you keep your eyes open for any evidence of Heritage Crime. What is heritage crime? Quite simply, as stated on the EH web page on the subject, it is “any offence which harms the value of England’s heritage assets and their settings to this and future generations”.

So how can you help? Firstly by taking note of any evidence. Pictures are always helpful. If you actually witness a crime being committed, the EH web page on reporting crime suggests phoning 999, but we’d say only do this if you will not be endangering your own personal safety by doing so. The first port of call for any crime will be the police, whether via 999 if a crime is in progress, or 101 if not (see the previous EH link above). If this all sounds familiar, we’ve previously highlighted these steps, here on the Journal.

But in addition, the relevant authority should also be informed, whether that be English Heritage or the National Trust in England, Cadw in Wales or Historic Scotland north of the border – see the contact links below.

It might also be worth recording your visit and any actions taken on one of the hobbyist web sites so that others can see what has already been reported – the Megalithic Portal has a useful Visit Log facility for registered users in addition to its site comments facility.

With your help, the integrity of many of these forgotten and threatened sites can hopefully be maintained, and any damage brought to the attention of the relevant people.

Useful Contact Links:

by Alan S

The Twittersphere was busy yesterday, trying to identify the ‘gentleman’ in a YouTube video, allegedly caught red-handed metal detecting on land without permission in the Purbrook Heath area nr Waterloovile, Hants (PO7 postcode area). PC Andy Long, Heritage Crime Officer for Essex Police (Twitter @PCAndyLong) is keen to speak with this individual if anyone knows who he is.

Apparently a complaint has been raised to YouTube, and the video may have been withdrawn by the time you read this, although stills from it are available on a number of websites. Interestingly, whether he was “dayhawking” or not there has been outrage from all camps over his yobbish behaviour and ignorance, an uncommon ‘coming together’ so let’s see if he can be identified and hopefully given some muscular outreach.

On the other hand it’s worth keeping in mind that thousands of detectorists get farmers to sign agreements under which they alone decide if tens of thousands of finds are to be shown or shared. If you think people who do that have the least right to lecture that bloke on treating farmers fairly we’d have to disagree rather strongly.

Update & clarification, 11 August 2014:
There really are none so blind as those who will not see. A detectorist has responded to the above article by writing:
“Some of the publicity the clip received from a certain few archaeo-bloggers is disappointing to read. It just seems that at any opportunity they will use something like this to make out that all detectorists behave like mindless, thuggish, oafs such as the chap on the video”.

He has it wrong, but not in the way he thinks. Our assertion is not that thousands of detectorists act like “The Muppet” but that a lot of detectorists act worse than him by treating farmers’ rights with the same contempt as him and in addition by collectively causing vastly more cultural damage than nighthawks through non-reporting. Deliberately contracting to give yourself the formal right to decide what you show and share with the owner and what you don’t cannot possibly be interpreted as otherwise. If it could be it would be but it can’t. Being “disappointed” about us saying it is neither here nor there. That must be clear enough to anyone that hasn’t a personal motivation for denying it is true.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


We received awful news yesterday afternoon from Emma Alsop on the Peak District Prehistory facebook group of yet another paint attack on a stone circle. This time its the latest in a long history of vandalism on the Nine Ladies of Stanton Moor.

Copyright Emma Allsop

Copyright Emma Alsop

She reports green and yellow paint on every stone, evidence of which you can clearly see in the photos. She also said “There are also newly scattered ashes round the circle (someone’s remains I presume)”. Hopefully the person who left that there may be able to help work out when this was done.

Copyright Emma Allsop

Copyright Emma Alsop

We have passed the information on to the relevant authorities. If you have any information which may help, please comment below and we will pass it on.

We have now visited and taken pictures of the damage to all of the stones – see here

Back in January of this year, I was witness to unthinking desecration by a family group at Men an Tol. I recently returned to the scene, or rather, I attempted to return to the scene. On this occasion, my path was blocked by cows grazing on the approaches to the monument. The surface damage done by the grazing cattle was much worse than that caused by the family earlier in the year.

Indeed, I’m not alone in thinking that the damage caused could have easily been avoided, were it not for poor advice from certain government departments, coupled with the greed of the owners on whose land the monument lies.  Save Penwith Moors, (SPM) a local pressure group acting to campaign lawfully for the removal of all new stock proofing (fencing, gates and cattle grids) from a few selected areas of open access moorland popular for local and tourist recreation, have been keeping a daily eye on the situation at Men an Tol, and have recently issued the following Open Letter to English Heritage, Natural England, Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN), as well as the local MP for the area:

“More potential trouble at Men-an-Tol!

As at Tregeseal Circle the cattle are gathering around the stones and using the two uprights as rubbing posts as well as covering the area with heaps of dung and ruining the public right of way – virtually impassable down towards the stream – by churning it up.

This is not an isolated out of the way site – and that would be no excuse anyway – but, probably, the most popular frequented ancient monument in the Peninsula and an iconic part of Cornish Heritage. It is high time remedial action was taken after this warning message – preferably by removing grazing stock from this Croft and undertaking manual maintenance.”

The Save Penwith Moors campaign web site and Facebook page includes photographic and video evidence of the damage being caused by the ill-conceived grazing policies as instigated by Natural England and (unjustifiably) supported by English Heritage who are ultimately legally responsible for the protection of the Scheduled Ancient Monument.  We would urge all our readers to visit the SPM pages and give them every support possible in their campaign against the current grazing policies.

Yesterday’s Heritage Crime Test highlighted how the punishment for bulldozing the Priddy Circle was pretty low compared with other cases. In fact latest accounts suggest the punishment at Gelt Woods, Cumbria including costs was double what we said and not far off a million pounds! Yet the two cases have much in common. A very rich man. Damage done by employees. The Court accepting they didn’t authorise it themselves. The suspicion it was done to improve the value of the land. In each case the accused paying for “restoration”…. So how come the big difference in punishment? Awful though the Gelt Wood case was, flora regenerates whereas unique archaeology doesn’t. One might expect Priddy to attract a massive punishment, not Gelt Woods.

Priddy, after being bulldozed. The grass has started to grow back, the archaeology hasn't.

Priddy, not long after being bulldozed. The grass had started to grow back, the archaeology hadn’t.

It’s because, it seems, that unauthorised work on a site of special scientific interest is a “strict liability” offence, i.e, defendants can be convicted even though they were genuinely ignorant of one or more factors that made their acts or omissions criminal. They may therefore not need to be culpable in any real sense (there is not even criminal negligence). These laws were created in the 19th century to improve working and safety standards in factories where few prosecutions happened because of the difficulty of proving mens rea (a “guilty mind”) and they increased the number of successful prosecutions. They tend to be used for two purposes, both of which ring a bell with those of us that see the ploughing out of barrows and such-like as an under-punished crime:

a. to enforce social behaviour where minimal stigma attaches to a person upon conviction and
b. where society is concerned with the prevention of harm, and wishes to maximise the deterrent value of the offence.

So maybe that’s the answer. If we want to prevent harm and to maximise deterrence (which were the two main issues that arose out of Priddy) we could make such cases strict liability offences. Of course, that would involve the public and the legislators being convinced that preservation of certain unique heritage assets is vital, a stage we haven’t fully reached yet.

There has been another interesting case about heritage crime recently, this time in Cumbria. So here’s a little test. Match the actual punishments with the crimes….

> Damaging a conservation site in Cumbria (by felling trees, excavating a significant track and damaging ground flora).
> Felling a protected yew tree in Chester
> Demolishing a house in a conservation area in Fulham
> Demolishing a house in a conservation area in Richmond, Surrey
> Bulldozing a Priddy Circle

£23,750 …. £40,500 …. £80,000 …. £129,000 …. £450,000


While you’re working it out, here’s some suitable music




How did you get on? Here’s the actual answer:

Punishment calculator

Update: We’ve discovered why the Cumbrian Trees attracted such a big punishment. See “Is Strict Liability the way to protect heritage?

We recently contrasted the big punishments given to people who steal lead from church roofs with the the leniency shown to people who plough out barrows, motorcycle on hillforts, nighthawk on scheduled sites and damage standing stones. But now in a “landmark ruling“, two men who metal detected on a protected site have been given ASBOs (the first time they’ve been used to tackle archaeological crime) as well as one year suspended custodial sentences, community service, curfews, compensation for damage and confiscation of equipment. So a heartening step towards consistency.

But there’s a long way to go. Mike Harlow (EH’s Legal Director) quite rightly said The history they are stealing belongs to all of us …. Once the artefacts are removed from the ground and sold the valuable knowledge they contain is lost for ever”. But you’d be mistaken to think that meant these two had been convicted of knowledge theft. There’s no such crime, which is why the wider reality beyond nighthawking is grim: 97% of archaeological sites are not scheduled – so if those two gents had legally removed identical objects from any of those and not reported them (as thousands freely admit they do) the self same knowledge would be lost forever and there’d be zero punishment. Hence, although Britain’s approach to heritage crime is improving (and four massive cheers for all the agencies – the police, EH, CPS and the BM – that are visibly bringing this about) our country’s approach to heritage loss remains as illogical and indefensible as ever…..

ass - Copy

Who can deny that the only proper approach (which is recognised and enacted abroad) is that no metal detecting whatsoever ought to be taking place without the law imposing what amounts to an antisocial behaviour order on those who do it. (Not a “voluntary” ASBO though. That would be silly, whoever heard of one of those working?!) Such a thing isn’t complicated or unfair – and every time the authorities condemn nighthawks because “The history they are stealing belongs to all of us” they are inadvertently agreeing.

PS…… and no longer said but seen! Yesterday, Simon Thurley, Chef Exec of EH, called for greater consistency by the Courts, which is our first point, with particular reference to Priddy (bravo! about time EH stopped saying they are “pleased” about that) but he also said, about nighthawks: that some of them “even trawled English Heritage’s own databases of protected sites looking for places likely to contain rich pickings….” Yes Dr Thurley, but it’s not just the courts that lack consistency for it’s not just nighthawks that do that and don’t report their finds is it? In fact nighthawks are a tiny, tiny proportion of those that do that so if you find such a thing so scandalous why not make it clear how widely it happens legally and how much you abhor it? You opine that “we’ve got perfectly good laws”. Hardly. On this particular issue the British law is a complete ass and it wouldn’t half help if you said so!


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


Its good to hear that the police have just had what is described as their “biggest success in the fight against British heritage crime.” Six men from Lincoln who stole lead from church roofs across three counties have been deal with very severely: Vidas Andruska was jailed for seven years, Andrius Cereska, Tadas Andruska and Andrius Kvedavas were jailed for four years each and Nerijus Razmas was jailed for 22 months. It’s a fair bet that none of those gents will ever go on a church roof again, nor will their friends!

And yet…. in the event that you get caught ploughing out a barrow, motorcycling on a hillfort,  nighthawking on a scheduled site or damaging a standing stone, you can confidently anticipate a very modest fine or costs, a telling off and a conditional discharge.

So why the difference? Are church roofs more precious than those things? Who knows, but the inconsistency is even more striking when you reflect on a remark by the judge at Lincoln that he had borne in mind that repairing church roofs imposes a heavy financial burden on local communities. In contrast, if you plough out a barrow, motorcycle on a hill fort, nighthawk on a scheduled site or smash a standing stone there’s no financial burden whatsoever – because the damage can never be repaired!

Smashed stone at Twelve Apostles Circle: no repair costs incurred.

Smashed stone at Twelve Apostles Circle: no repair costs incurred.

Here is a letter we’ve sent to Mr Penny. You never know, it might be worth it.


Dear Mr Penny,

According to the police and English Heritage it is important that proper consideration is given to the impact of a crime on a heritage asset. We’d like to explain why we think that hasn’t happened at Priddy (and to propose a solution):

1. Your financial circumstances suggest a £48,000 penalty is relatively inconsequential.
2. It also looks lenient relative to previous heritage crimes, few or none of which had such a catastrophic impact.
3. Despite the value of your land possibly having been enhanced by what you did no confiscation order was applied.
4. Although not precisely equivalent, it looks anomalous that had you been convicted of metal detecting on the henge your equipment would have been confiscated whereas you still retain your bulldozer.

and 5:
As you know (as it was your barrister that proposed it) restorative justice formed the backbone of the penalty. Trouble is, that’s supposed to comprise “restitution or reparative measures” whereas  if you bulldoze something away it is absolutely gone so there can be neither restitution, restoration, reparation nor justice.

Worse, we feel that by offering to pay for rebuilding and then keeping that offer open with respect to the less costly plan to merely carry out a research project you established very low parameters to the amount of restorative justice you have been subject to. (An investigation costing only £38,000 will be very limited in both scope and the amount of knowledge gathered – archaeological investigations typically involve hundreds of thousands of pounds!).

Hence we feel you have got away rather lightly for the heritage crime of the century and that morally at least you still owe a significant measure of restitution to the community. We also feel there will be an on-going negative impact: the court has effectively put a very low price on top-of-the-scale heritage assets and now potential developers can do their sums and perhaps calculate it is worthwhile not playing by the rules. A much higher penalty would have been good for heritage.

May we therefore request that for the sake of your reputation, the feelings of those who feel justice is yet to be done and the good of prehistoric heritage in general that you now consider making a series of significant ex gratia donations to some of the many worthy conservation projects currently in need of support?

Yours faithfully,

Heritage Action


September 2021

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