Monday, 15 March 2021

Irresponsible Metal Detectorists, Sussex Police and Landowners at Midnight


At about the same time as British police used Covid regulations as an excuse to brutally break up a peaceful vigil held by women on Clapham Common another event was occurring some 50 km away to the SW. Three men from London were stopped by Sussex police on Saturday just before midnight while they were metal detecting together in woodland at Rudgwick near Horsham on the Sussex/Surrey border (Pipeline, 'Sussex police response to possible illegal metal detecting in question' 15th March 2021). It is not clear whether they had been tipped off by a member of the public who suspected night-time illegal artefact hunting was going on, but one can imagine the ire of a landowner having the whole house woken up by a police intervention after midnight to establish whether the men were there with their permission (presumably some kind of a 'search and take permit' was proffered when the men were challenged). In the event, the only action that seems to have been taken against the men was to issue what appears to be a fixed penalty notice issued under England's Covid Regulations. We know because for some reason, somebody boasted about it (metal detectorists!) on social media:

The notice, which was posted on Facebook by an individual from London, who cannot be confirmed as one of the individuals fined, and which was passed to thePipeLine, begins by confirming the time and location of the alleged contravention of the "Health Protection [Coronavirus, Restrictions] [All Tiers] [England] Regulations 2020", under which the men were issued fixed penalties. The notice states that, "On 30/01/2021 at A281 Rudgwick, at 23.30pm you were found to be in contravention of the regulations..." The notice goes on to describe the circumstances of the alleged contravention, "3 males were found in woods with metal detectors. They explained they had travelled from their homes in London for the weekend to carry out metal detecting. All three were therefore fined for non-essential travel from London."
One wonders how responsible artefact hunters would expect to be able to see where the objects were coming from and whether they were in any archaeologically-significant associations in the dark. Also digging in unploughed sites in woodland, they risked digging down into undisturbed layers (while the Code of Best Practice says nothing about visibility issues, it does talk of keeping off undisturbed land that might have shallow stratigraphy). Also in the middle of a weekend night is not the best time to contact any FLO (that's Jane Clark) to report anything that might need their intervention or help. That also is very irresponsible. 

The Sussex Police press office has so far not responded to a query on this matter from 'Pipeline' (who report on this) and the boastful Facebook post with a photo of the Fixed Penalty Order was subsequently deleted.


Brian Mattick said...

"(presumably some kind of a 'search and take permit' was proffered when the men were challenged"

Not necessarily. As the forums clearly show, a large number of detectorists claim farmers don't want to be troubled with "paperwork" and are happy to proceed on the basis of "trust" and a handshake and these people therefore might have simply said "the farmer said we could be here and take stuff straight home and tell him if we found anything".

But of course, an agreement, whether verbal or written, would be unlikely to say "but not in the dark". Which farmer (or decent person) would dream that would happen? Certainly, the NCMD model agreement is silent on the point as is the official guide.

It's extraordinary. Everyone knows what a man in a wood with a detector in the dark is up to, and that it is to the disadvantage of the farmer and a lot more serious than just breaking Covid rules.

Brian Mattick said...

Perhaps I could add, no-one can expect the NMD code to be re-drafted to avoid these situations but the official one COULD be:

"Being responsible means...Reporting all archaeological finds to the relevant landowner/occupier; and making it clear to the landowner"

could be amended to "Being responsible means...Detecting only in daylight and reporting all archaeological finds to the relevant landowner/occupier the same day."

Taking things home without showing them to the owner can't be justifiable. One club takes things home and sends the farmer photographs of whatever they consider he might like to see. Amending the official code would end that, at least in those clubs that purport to abide by it.

Paul Barford said...

Well, I cannot imagine a situation where Sussex police found somebody walking around on another person's property taking things from it and NOT ask to see they had a right to be there. I assume that the police would have ascertained that there was a permit, but nevertheless Covid regulations were ignored.

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