Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Metal Detectorist Malarky: Guilty M’lord

Readers of this blog may remember the story I reported here last year of the metal detector using artefact hunter and collector from Nuneaton who was facing trial over some ancient coins he claims to have found and offered UK coin dealers who reported him to the police for attempting to sell what they say are fakes.

As we know, Britain has some totally laissez faire approaches to portable antiquity hunting, digging and collecting which do nothing to curb the abuse of the system by those who would for one reason or another give artefacts false provenances. I discussed a newspaper report of a worrying case here a few weeks ago - which prompted the head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to threaten to "have the law onto me" for daring to draw attention to it and discuss it... [this is despite the fact that the "Nighthawking report" (page 98, point 9.3.9) also discusses this as a concern of the staff that work for Mr Bland, maybe he needs to listen to their concerns more, or "have the law on" Oxford Archaeology too].

Anyway, there has been a development in the Nuneaton case. It was being reported yesterday on various metal detecting forums that the accused has changed his plea to guilty on five of the seven offences he was charged with. The case has apparently been adjourned for reports to be made prior to sentence being passed, and the metal detectorists' forums report that the accused will be reappearing in court on April 22nd. Interestingly it turns out that the mysterious owner (“Crusader”) of the previously rather moribund “Coldfeet uncovered” blog which has been covering (somewhat vindictively) this case very closely revealed himself on the detectorist.co forum to be somebody who has commented on this blog. It’s a small world.

This is a satisfying outcome for me personally, as I had a run-in with this gentleman and his truculent supporters five years ago when (before he changed his name). He accused a British museum of "losing" (stealing from him) a valuable gold coin which he had lent them for identification. This matter went to court, which found that there was no evidence the coin had been deposited in the museum (which led to all sorts of accusations from various segments of the "metal-detecting" community opposed to co-operation with archaeologists and museums). I was interested to see the basis for these allegations against my colleagues, and obtained copies of the original documentation and was satisfied that the court was right to maintain that the claim that what was documented as being loaned to the museum was anything different from what was returned was not tenable. It was clear that the conspiracy theory about the museum employees stealing this coin had no basis in fact, but equally clear that certain metal detector users were utilising this imagined scandal to justify their own and fellow "detectorists"' non-cooperation with archaeological institutions. The accuser then produced what he said was a photo of both sides of the coin which the museum had "lost". It was a relatively rare type, a 'Celtic' trefoil stater. Interestingly - and impossibly - the obverse was struck on a different shaped flan than the reverse. Canadian celtic coin buff John Hooker suggested - and I am inclined to agree with him - that what had happened was that somebody had faked the photo with a computer graphics program by manipulating photos of other known examples. This of course did not go down well in the metal detecting community. This latest court case and reported guilty plea suggests that we were right to question the evidential value of this photo. Its all on Britarch, if anyone wants to follow it up (June 2004 "Museum loses coin" and related threads, though I believe the relevant threads on the metal detecting forums with have since gone - a shame because the tenor of the "discussion" was rather telling).

I note that a day after these revelations, the record of his "find" of a controversial coin (though apparently validated by detectorist-database coin expert Rod Blunt) is still in the UKDFD database as I reported earlier. I would like to ask whether in the light of these five reported 'guilty pleas', and the fact that two of the coins involved were said to be from a hoard reported to the BM as "Treasure", any records of finds made by this metal detectorist and incorporated in the PAS database will now be verified. Unlike the UKDFD records, the PAS records are for some reason anonymous, so there is no way for the observer unaided to determine which records in it were made of finds from a particular finder who, if yesterday's reports are true, it now turns out was less than trustworthy in reporting where some of the items he was claiming to have found had actually come from.

UPDATE March 2010: I see that on the UKDFD website there is this statement:
UKDFD STATEMENT Removal of Records from Database

The recent conviction of David Hutchings ('Coldfeet') for selling fake coins inevitably raises doubts about the reliability of information he provided for the finds that he recorded on the UKDFD.

The decision has therefore been taken to remove all the records of his finds from the public database.
I do not recall seeing a similar announcement from the PAS.

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