Monday, 12 October 2015

BBC Reveals UK Heritage Crime

From the press release,
posed or a criminal at work?
Bristol University press release: 'Heritage crime unearthed' 12 October 2015
An investigation by the BBC Inside Out West programme and the University of Bristol has uncovered the scale of heritage crime through the activities of illegal metal detectorists in Gloucestershire. The area is well known for its many important archaeological sites, and the majority of these are protected by law as ancient monuments. This has not, however, deterred treasure hunters trespassing onto these sites, often at night, to dig for buried artefacts and to keep whatever they find. 
Note that, most suggest that they are digging for sale, but of course so-called metal detectorists are primarily collectors.
Up to now, there have been very few methods to catch these individuals, often known as ‘nighthawks’, and prosecute them. The investigation placed motion-sensor infra-red cameras at a number of locations around a well-known destination for nighthawks. “We were amazed to catch several individuals working over a scheduled ancient monument digging holes with their detectors,” said Professor Mark Horton of Bristol’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology. “The fact that they were there between 10.30pm and 2am clearly shows that they did not want to be discovered.”
It does not say how many of those detected artefact hunting illegally were arrested. Of course there is the usual fluffy bunny mumbo-jumbo:
Archaeologists are not opposed to legitimate metal-detecting, where it takes place with the permission of the landowner, on unprotected sites, and encourages detectorists to declare their finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which maintains a publicly available data base.
Where "it" encourages, eh? What happens when the PAS disappears, will they still be "not opposed"?

Inside Out West will be broadcast on Monday 12th October at 7.30pm on BBC One.

UPDATE 13th October 2015

Although I did not see it, Andy Brockman has a sharply-worded comment on last night's BBC coverage of nighthawking (Alleged Detector Using Heritage Thieves Caught on Camera in BBC/Bristol University Sting', The Pipeline October 13, 2015). The programme utilised technology employed in wildlife photography using motion detectors and cameras to capture the nocturnal deeds of some metal detector users on scheduled ancient monuments.

Interestingly, Brockman sees very little distinction between these "nighthawks" and the so-called "legitimate detectorists" of the press blurb:
especially when it comes to the recovery of archaeological finds without recording or reporting them to the Finds Liaison Officers [FLO’s] belonging to the voluntary Portable Antiquities Scheme [PAS] and the sale of finds on E-bay. All activities which some so called legitimate detectorists also engage in. 

The purpose of the programme seems to have been to demonstrate to "Nighthawking thieves" that "theirs might no longer be a totally risk free crime". Brockman adds one threat not covered by the programme, that some regions of the UK (including Gloucestershire where this was filmed) are the scene of the controversial badger cull, by licenced sharpshooters:
which means that for heritage thieves to go creeping about in the rural undergrowth in black balaclavas and camo could be dangerous. It would be a tragic loss to humanity if any of the genus Nighthawk were taken out by mistake instead of Mr Brock. Far safer to just attend one of the regular metal detecting rallies and not declare the finds to the PAS, all of which is perfectly legal.
Brockman notes that the programme suffered from a lack of focus. He says that clarity of discussion of the main topic was encumbered by the "clumsy balancing padding" which as we all know has become traditional any and every time artefact hunting is discussed:
Perhaps because some members of the metal detector community are notoriously thin skinned when it comes to any form of criticism, rather than simply accept that the core subject for the evening was a simple issue of theft by alleged criminals who happen to use metal detectors, a good portion of the already short running time of the package was spent with a sketchy discussion of how “responsible” metal detectorists are a good thing when they work directly with archaeologists. This section then concluded with what an increasing number of archaeologists regard as standard platitudes about the efficacy of the voluntary Portable Antiquities Scheme and a categorical statement that there was no need to make the private use of metal detectors illegal in England, as it is in many European jurisdictions including Ireland. This is a shame because that discussion would have been better left out completely and revisited on another day in a longer format capable of supporting the necessary counter arguments
So the detectorists' own "we are not nighthawks" arguments substituting for discussion of best practice, again. This is a trap that even the police dealing with rural crime have fallen into, they cannot think their way out of the box which is confined by PAS spin-rhetoric.

So as a result, Bristol archaeologist Professor Mark Horton appears on the programme saying he is "amazed to catch several individuals working over a scheduled ancient monument digging holes with their detectors”. As Brockman observes things look different outside the ivory tower, the looting will come as less of a surprise among those with boots on the ground, to "hundreds of archaeologists up and down the UK who have to risk assess and protect their sites from thieves 24/7 365 days a year".

So, to come back to my question of how many people were detained once the movement detectors registered their nocturnal presence and they were filmed doing whatever it was they were doing, here is a screenshot from "The Pipeline". It shows the sort of bloke you could see on any metal detecting forum in the country, in fact, they probably are.

Metal detectorists read this blog, can any of them say who these three detecting buddies are? It is reported that the "wheelman" of this gang was apparently called "Vlad".  If you have information about this or any other heritage crime, don't tell me, but call Crime Stoppers UK on 0800 555111 or contact them via the Crime Stoppers Website.

 Over on a metal detecting forum near you is the usual vacant-brain discussion ("Oi missed it M8" and "they should be.... [various violent ends]") which any report of illegal metal detecting activity provokes from this crowd. Of course they were delighted by the padding: "The whole piece was handled fairly IMO with a couple of experts talking about how legal detecting has helped in safe guarding our heritage". I'd have liked to see some "expert" pointing out how shooting the rhinos to "recover" their horns is in any way "safeguarding" our natural heritage. Completely nonsensical PAS-inspired  muddled thinking.

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