I am not going to write to her, because the Kent FLO will tell us that she only discusses "this Treasure case" with metal detectorists and I'm not one. Anyhow, two problems have arisen with regard to the anonymous landowner's claim to a share of the Treasure award for the "Near Maidstone" find, which I think if the PAS were doing its job of outreach to the people concerned (including finders and landowners the country over, as well as the rest of us) should be addressing. The Coroner too. They arise on the basis of the same laws that allow artefact hunting.
The first option is that the Landowner has his reward share cut, the second is that he or she should get the entire reward paid, with none going to the finder.
It's up to the Coroner to establish by inquest the actual circumstances of this find. From a purely legal point of view, two questions arise here. Was the decision to remove the artefacts summarily and before any archaeological examination take place taken with the landowner's explicit agreement? At the time of finding of the objects, was there an explicit agreement between the landowner and the finder Greg Sweetman?
To take the first question, as we have discussed in the comments to an earlier post (here) is that a Treasure award is entirely discretionary, there is no legal obligation on anyone to be given one. The Code of Practice to the Treasure Act (para 79[viii]) stipulates that no rewards at all or abated rewards may be received under the following circumstances:
(viii) where significant damage has been done deliberately or recklessly either to the actual object, or to a surrounding monument or to the archaeological deposits making up the contexts which may explain the circumstances in which the object became buried or concealed, when the object was removed from the place where it was found;The landowner is the owner of the archaeological finds on his property in all cases, unless a Treasure inquest (as yet still to be held) decides otherwise. As such, it is the landowner's responsibility to ensure that the archaeological finds on his property are treated as laid own not only by the law (Treasure Act 1996) but in accordance with the Code of Practice which accompanies it. While on his land as holders of a search permission, the metal detectorists are acting merely as his agent and under his supervision. If the landowner has failed to exercise that responsibility (or if he did and gave the nod - "hoik it out lads!") then he should ideally forfeit part or all of that part of the reward which is paid for the obtaining of knowledge of the Treasure. If the finders hoiked out the finds without his explicit permission and both sides lose out, the landowner can in theory sue the club to recover his own potential losses.
The second issue arrives from the information supplied by someone who claims to have inside knowledge, James Warr, who has stated provocatively that:
Mr Sweetman wasn't a member of that club thatday. He was invited in to fill numbers. He didn't know anyone in the group, so therefore couldn't trust anyone at this stage.If that is the case, it is the duty of the Coroner to investigate whether Mr Sweetman figures on the original search agreement signed between the Medway History Finders club and the landowner before the event. Does it contain permission for "members of the club" to search and dig up finds, or "members of the club and assorted individuals who might wander along on the day"? If the Coroner's inquest determines that Mr Sweetman was on the land on Sunday 16th February 2014 with his metal detector and spade without at the time being covered by a properly-formulated permission, then on purely legal grounds, he cannot be eligible for a share of the Treasure reward and the whole arguably should then go (at the discretion of the Secretary of State) to the landowner.
The people (PAS?) who received these finds from Mr Sweetman to pass them on to "London" for cleaning would necessarily have seen a copy of the documentation establishing Mr Sweetman's title to the objects (this would be standard procedure in order to avoid heritage professionals running the risk of handling material of legally unclear status), so what does it say? If there were any question, then professional ethics, if nothing else requires them to report that to the Coroner's inquest.
It will be interesting to see how this case develops, and with the Medway detectorists and their supporters currently attacking everyone left right and centre, it seems likely that I am not the only one who will be watching the further development of this case especially carefully.
Vignette: Landowners, by Gainsborough