Tuesday 30 June 2020

Manchester Artefact Hunters Arrested With Metal Detectors, Artefacts and Cannabis [UPDATED]

Cheshire Police Rural Crime press release: Officers from Cheshire Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team arrest four people in connection with the theft of historic artefacts 30/06/2020
Officers from Cheshire Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team have arrested four people in connection with the theft of historic artefacts following a series of morning raids in Greater Manchester. Earlier today (30 June) search warrants were executed at seven addresses located in the Droylsden and Audenshaw areas of Manchester and relate to an investigation of unlawful metal detecting at protected heritage sites across the Midlands and Northern England. [...] Four men aged 28, 31, 32, and 31 have been arrested and are helping police with their enquiries. Artefacts, metal detection equipment and cannabis was seized as part of the investigation. The artefacts will be subject to expert analysis by finds experts from the Portable Antiquities Scheme and archaeologists from Historic England.
It's not clear what they'll learn from just the loose "artefacts and metal detection equipment" without documentation of search locations (and search-and-take agreements and protocols assigning title from the landowners - or lack of).  How can you prosecute anyone in the UK on the basis of a loose Bronze Age axehead, no matter what 'the archaeologists' say it is?

It is not clear why seven addresses were raided, but only four arrests made.

And, this time it fell to the lot of Sgt Rob Simpson from the Rural Crime Team, to intone the traditional mantra:
“We recognise that the vast majority of the metal-detecting community comply with the laws and regulations relating to the discovery and recovery of objects from the land. But the small number of people who do remove artefacts unlawfully and damage ancient sites are depriving the community of our valuable history".
Yeah, and so....? Mark Harrison, Head of Heritage Crime Strategy for Historic England lets slip the reason why 'sticking to the law' is not the actual issue with collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record:
"Unlawful metal detecting is not a victimless crime. We may never see or fully understand the objects taken or damaged because they have been removed from their original sites with no care or record as to their history or context.
BUT that does not just happen in unlawful detecting, but in artefact hunting as a whole, for goodness sake. Finish the sentence, tell it like it is, please Historic England.

Cheshire is the region where metal detector use is discussed in a video that shows what we are losing from (lawful) hoiking. When is Historic England going to get tough with the 27000 artefact hunters pilfering metal archaeological objects from sites "who are intent on causing loss and damage to our shared cultural heritage"?

See also Sophie Halle-Richards, 'Four arrested during morning raids over theft of historic artefacts from Northern heritage sites' Manchester Evening News 30 JUN 2020 for video of the raids.  Apparently these metal detectorists have very similar tastes in flimsy front doors.

Apparently they are suspected of having taken stuff from two sites in Cheshire and South Yorkshire. We also remember that it was at a rally in Yorkshire that there was another incident involving cannabis and metal detectorists.

UPDATE 1st July 2020
The number of arrests given in the press release was (and still is) four, but it is reported that two more suspects gave themselves up shortly after the first four were arrested. The fate of the seventh is not known yet. Perhaps he's busy leaving his expensive metal detectors and logbooks with friends before he pops along to the police station for a handslap.

The video shows what seem to be evidence collected in plastic bags, but note that the bags seem to be unnumbered and the labels in the bags have not been filled in, signed and dated. What sloppiness is this? I note that the officer in charge says it's their first operation of this type (despite the fact that metal detectors have been used in Cheshire since the 1970s, so if what he says is true it does not look like they really are "taking heritage crime seriously" there, after all).

UPDATE 1st July 2020

BBC, 'Historic England thefts: Two more held over stolen artefacts' 1st July 2020.
Two more men have been arrested after artefacts were stolen from protected heritage sites in northern England. The suspects were detained as part of a probe into unlawful metal detecting at Beeston Castle in Cheshire and Roche Abbey in South Yorkshire, bringing the total number of arrests to six. [...] All six suspects, aged 28 to 32, have been bailed pending further inquiries. The arrests were made following raids on seven properties in Droylsden and Audenshaw, Greater Manchester on Tuesday. It follows a similar operation in January, which saw two men held over "nighthawking" at Beeston Castle.
They were from Droylsden too, aged 28 and 31. The damage at Roche, near Maltby was also discussed here.

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