Monday 12 May 2014

More Fifty-Shiftiness: Mrs Mop and a Metal Detectorist Challenge Farmer Brown

Ex weight-lifter, Halina
Kowalska, the Ministry of Culture
office cleaning lady
looks a bit like this.
One has to be a complete idiot to attempt to pose as a Canadian lawyer if you are a British metal detectorist who can barely work out how to use a fork and knife, prepositions and the apostrophe. Nevertheless some beep-beep-boy buffoon who pinched the name 'Carolyn Bird' (rather reminiscent of Bournemouth "legal secretary" "Candice Jarman") attempts to do this from website and challenge canny Farmer Brown over the issue of the ownership of artefacts found by metal detecting in fields in England and Wales.

This numpty claims that as "lost property" anything he finds in a farmer's field belongs to the finder.  Sadly, this guy is clearly among the metal detecting majority who have severely limited attention span and cognitive abilities and thus has problems with coping with more than two ideas in one sitting. As a result, he misses out quite a lot here as it applies to dugup relics.

He betrays a woefully weak grasp on the current state of the law of England, Scotland, Wales and/or the two Irelands. He starts off by stating baldly:
“the landowner does not have title to the objects buried in his or her fields
That is not true on several counts. First of all if we are talking about “lost property”, then there is a clear difference in common law depending on where the found object was discovered. There is a difference if the finder is in a public area (like in the street) or an area where he has privileged access to an area usually private (such as a tractor driver in a farmer’s field, or a guest in somebody’s house – or somebody’s cleaning lady). Despite what the man posing as "Carolyn Bird" said, the latter does NOT then in a common law situation automatically have finder’s rights to unclaimed lost property. If the Ministry of Culture cleaning lady finds a smartphone wedged down the side of the armchair in Reception, she does not have the right to pocket it. This is exactly the position of a metal detecting guest in somebody else’s field.

Secondly if we are talking about grave goods or a votive hoard, then there is obviously no “lost” property – this was the difficulty in the application of bona vacantia Treasure Trove law in England leading to its scrapping. But "Carolyn Bird" is of a different opinion:
”In the case of treasure, the items were not lost but were placed intentionally with the owner expecting to retrieve the items at a later date
That’s simply a rubbish definition of the current situation in British law. The person who wrote that is  confusing two different things, and obviously has not the foggiest idea of what the Treasure Act says. .

A real lawyer would also know that in addition to lost (or abandoned) property, there is also the common law legal category of ‘mislaid’ or ‘misplaced’ property (found in a place where the original owner likely did intend to set it, but then simply neglected to pick it up again, like for example metal items scattered around a homestead). By law, mislaid property should be handed over to the owner of the premises where found, and if unclaimed DOES belong to the owner of the property. Then there is res nullius, the metal detectorist forgot that. Are coins and brooches which potentially can be flogged on eBay for tens of quid, sometimes hundreds of quid res nullius?

Another false suggestion is that a property owner only actually owns what he can inventorise. Anyone who decides to shoot pheasants in Farmer Brown’s copse or poach truffles or dig flagstone slabs for their patio from land at Grunter's Hollow will most likely find that out.

In any case, one wonders whether this self-appointed "legal beagle" has any pointers to any "responsible detectorists" applying his interpretation of the law to the artefacts they find. How would "Carolyn Bird" suggest metal detectorists treating artefacts found in fields as theirs by rights as "lost property" go about fulfilling their obligations as a finder to reunite the owner with his or her property. Are they perhaps to hand all such items into the police station, filling in the requisite form for each case? Are they perhaps to place a notice in a public place ("found in this field on 4th May 2014, assorted lost metal items including jewellery and coins of the Realm, please contact Baz Thugwit, 13 Gasworks Lane, Snotworth, tel 01 234 5678")? It would be interesting to see Mr "Bird" continue the discussion of the legal problems he has raised by this notion.

This pathetic tekkie attempt to deflect discussion from the extremely cogent and debate-worthy points which Heritage Action are raising provokes two reflections:

1) How can metal detectorists claim to be law-abiding when it seems that large numbers of them are as defiantly ignorant of the law as Mr Numpty here? Maybe, after 17 years of "outreach" there is room here for a PAS guidance note on the actual legal situation regarding finds, finding, ownership and lost property. Really there is no point in assuming all dunderheads with metal detectors actually know anything about the law.

2)  When are idiot UK metal detectorists going to stop their inane sock-puppetry intended to spread misinformation and cause confusion and let others with clearer consciences and minds get on with discussing responsible artefact hunting with the rest of us? This really is utterly pathetic. The milieu that stands passively by and lets itself be represented by clowns like this is also utterly pathetic.

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