Saturday, 4 June 2016

Treasure Ransoms in the UK: Cheating the System

Heritage Action's Saturday-morning-spot-on-metal-detecting this week is on Treasure ransoms: the "reward" British citizens pay treasure hunters to obey the law on reporting Treasure finds ('How many British treasure payouts are far too high? All of them?' 4th June 2016)

Someone found a hoard at Lenborough and got rewarded. What’s not to like? Well, two things: First, he was paid a mind-boggling £675,000, far more than was needed or warranted or could be afforded or other countries would have paid. Second, the Treasure Committee still could and should have slashed the reward for “bad practice” (he claimed, fatuously, the hoard couldn’t be guarded overnight so had to be dug up hurriedly, thus destroying much knowledge). But they didn’t, they almost never do. Why is our reward system like this? For one simple, shameful, unpublicised reason: zillions of UK detectorists make it clear that if they don’t get maximum payouts they won’t declare treasure finds.
Heritage Action point out that the Lenborough fiasco was conducted fully within Britains (crappy) and they are too gracious to note that in addition this disgrace took place not only under the eyes of an archaeologist but also apparently with the full participation of that archaeologist. They then ask:
What about the rewards the Treasure Committee also gives to criminals
They discuss the case where illegal artefact hunters clandestinely invaded a site under excavation and did a little digging on their own behalf and pocketed what they found.
If the criminals had [found any Treasure item] (did they?) and “re-found” it elsewhere they’d be given full market value. Does that happen much? Well put it this way: if you were a nighthawk in Britain (or even a visiting one with goods to dispose of) what would YOU do? It’s beyond denial, we have a treasure system which showers excessive rewards not just on the partly deserving but also the blatantly undeserving and the downright criminal. But you won’t read about that in the papers either. Move along now. Nothing to see here.
What is so irritating is that it turns out that the proceedings of the coroner's inquest are open to rather free interpretation, some Coroners consider it their duty to establish the precise  circumstances of the discovery of the items subject to inquest, while others (like the Kent Coroner for the Medway region who refused to accept evidence from myself in a recent case which was apparently in effect tried in secret) do not see it as in any way important to establish that something was found in the manner claimed by the finder. Had the so-called Crosby Garrett Helmet been a 'Treasure' there is no guarantee that the Coroner would have been any more analytical of the finders' bald account than their obliging "partner" PAS was. 

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