FIVE men have been fined and banned from metal detecting after committing heritage crimes at Cheshire's Beeston Castle and Roche Abbey in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

All five men, from Tameside, appeared at Chester Magistrates Court for sentencing on Friday, May 7. They had each previously pleaded guilty to removing, without written consent, objects of archaeological/historical interest found by a metal detector in a protected place.

They all appeared before District Judge Nicholas Sanders.

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Curtis Barlow

Curtis Barlow, 32, of The Quadrant, Droylsden, admitted taking coins and metal artefacts from Roche Abbey between December 13-15, 2019.

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Gary Flanagan

Gary Flanagan, 33, of Winton Avenue, Audenshaw, admitted taking coins and metal artefacts from Beeston Castle and Roche Abbey between December 13-30, 2019. He was also charged with taking an axe head from Beeston Castle, a charge which he denied and the prosecution therefore withdrew.

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Daniel James Lloyd

Daniel James Lloyd, 33, of Beech Avenue, Droylsden, admitted taking an axe head, coins and other metal artefacts from Beeston Castle between December 13-30, 2019.

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John Andrew Lorne

John Andrew Lorne, 29, of Sunnyside Road, Droylsden, admitted taking an axe head, coins and other metal artefacts from Beeston Castle between December 13-30, 2019, and removing coins and metal artefacts from Roche Abbey between December 28-30, 2019.

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Francis James Ward

Francis James Ward, 32, of Dingle Drive, Droylsden, admitted taking an axe head, coins and other metal artefacts from Beeston Castle between December 13-30, 2019. He also admitted producing a small quantity of cannabis.

The five men were ordered to forfeit all artefacts and their metal detectors which have an estimated value of up to £1,000 and above.

Prosecuting, Alan Currums said police were tipped off about a series of artefacts trying to be sold to an antiques dealer, who became suspicious.

The men’s illegal activities were unearthed when a number of holes were found in the grounds of Beeston Castle and Roche Abbey, both historic sites in the care of English Heritage, sparking athe investigation.

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Some of the coins found by the men, seized by police

Further information led them to Ward and on New Year’s Eve, officers from Cheshire executed a warrant at his Drolysden home.

This then led officers to Lorne and his home was searched during a warrant at which a number of items were seized.

Both men were arrested and interviewed while mobile phones and other devices were seized.

When analysing their phones officers discovered both men were part of a nighthawking WhatsApp group, leading to the arrest of Lloyd, Barlow and Flanagan.

Items stored included axe heads dating back to the Bronze Age, and access to the sites had been obtained by climbing over walls.

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Coins and other items seized by police

Michael Gray, defending Lorne, said what was driving the defendant was "excitement", having had a very long interest in metal detecting and applying to be part of legitimate archaeological digs.

He accepted the axe heads had been taken from Beeston Castle, but there were other artefacts which police had seized which had been obtained legitimately.

He accepted that the manner in which he had obtained these items was wrong and illegal.

Lorne was fined a total of £1,600, plus a £160 victim surcharge and £85 court costs.

Mark Evans, representing Lloyd and Ward, said it was "naive enthusiasm" which had got into the group, rather than anything being more "nefarious".

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Bronze Age axe heads

Lloyd, with no previous convictions, had been metal detecting for 12 months but had been using a child's metal detector, which was "useless", and had largely been the driver in the group to the sites.

Ward had been involved for "a matter of weeks" and "had just bought a metal detector".

For the cannabis charge, he had four plants which were for personal use.

Lloyd was fined £600, plus £85 court costs and a £60 victim surcharge. Ward was fined £800 for the metal detecting offences and £500 for the cannabis production. He must pay a £130 victim surcharge and £85 court costs.

Flanagan, representing himself, said he knew what he had done was wrong and had since given up metal detecting for good.

Flanagan was fined a total of £1,100 and must pay a £110 surcharge and £85 court costs.

Ellie Akhgar, representing Barlow, said Barlow did not have much interest in metal detecting and had gone along "for the adventure", and was remorseful.

Barlow was fined £520 and must pay £85 court costs and a £52 victim surcharge.

Sentencing, DJ Sanders said: "You understand, if not then, but now, how serious this offence is regarding these National heritage assets.

"They are protected. The law is there to protect them so generations to come can do research properly on the history of this country.

"By doing what you did, you had the potential to jeopardise those investigations."

He added he accepted none of the defendants had gone into what they did for "significant financial advantage", and all had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.

All five defendants were handed a five-year Criminal Behaviour Order banning them from being in possession of metal detectors or any metal detecting equipment on National Heritage sites in England or historic Cadw sites in Wales.

They were also banned from doing any metal detecting on land, public or private, they don't own, other than with express written permission of the landowner who has been made aware of the CBO.

All the metal detecting equipment was to be forfeited.

PC Ashley Tether from Cheshire Police’s Rural Crime Team led the investigation.

He said: “Their WhatsApp group clearly showed what they were up to and our subsequent forensic investigations alongside South Yorkshire police put them at the locations where the incidents had occurred.

"What followed was a number of months of carefully identifying and cataloguing the historic artefacts they had taken with the help of Historic England experts. The evidence we put together was such that they pleaded guilty at their first hearing.

“The theft of historic items and the damage caused to scheduled monuments and listed buildings is an assault on our history and the impact on the historic ground they have damaged should not be underestimated.

“Although no exact value can be determined for the artefacts taken, they are a piece of national history that help us to understand our past. Once these items are lost or damaged they can’t be replaced and we lose the context and the story that may have helped us to understand our ancestors better.

“The items these men took for their own gain are part of our rich history and need to be protected which is why we embarked on a lengthy and complicated investigation with Historic England and South Yorkshire Police Rural Crime Team.

“These men are now barred from metal detecting near historic sites in England and Wales and if they want to do so on any other land, they need to show the land owner a copy of the CBO before conducting metal detecting activity - if you see them not adhering to this restriction you can report it to police on 101. Breaching such orders can result in a prison sentence.”

Mark Harrison, Head of Heritage Crime Strategy for Historic England said: “A decade ago, we did not have the skills and techniques necessary to investigate this form of criminal behaviour.

"We have now developed the expertise, capability and partnerships to identify and prosecute the small criminal minority of nighthawks. The overwhelming majority of metal detectorists comply with the legislation and codes of practice.”

Mark Harrison added: “When thieves steal artefacts from a protected archaeological site, they are stealing from all of us and damaging something which is often irreplaceable.”

English Heritage Properties Curator Win Scutt, said: “Illegal metal detecting robs us of our past, and whilst this prosecution is good news, sadly the damage incidents like these cause can never be repaired.

"Beeston Castle and Roche Abbey are protected in law because of the lessons we can learn from their unique archaeology. Unlawful attacks like these can cause such insight to be lost forever. We are grateful to Cheshire Police and Historic England for their persistent and innovative approach to investigating this case, and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

“The ground beneath us is a wonderful library of our past. Holes dug by metal detectorists cut through these unread pages destroying all the information forever – just to tear out a precious trinket that will usually end up lost in a private collection. English Heritage is dedicated to preserving these nationally important archaeological sites.

"The damage incidents like these cause can never be repaired and the chance to learn about these important sites is lost for ever. We are grateful to Cheshire Police and Historic England for their persistent and innovative approach to investigating this case, and bringing the perpetrators to justice."

Catherine Dewar, Historic England’s regional director for the North West, explained how significant advances in recent years, as well as partnership working between the police and Historic England, had led to the convictions.

She said: "What has change din the last 10 years has been the technological advances – there were two things that tied these five men down.

"One was analysing smartphone data, which linked all of them into a Whatsapp group where they talked about metal detecting.

"The other was we have been doing some soil analysis on the items such as the Bronze Age axe head found, and we could link that to Beeston Castle. It was a significant advantage.

"For me and my team, the partnership has been really fantastic. We have got the specialist skills and are able to identify artefacts. We can say to police 'that is a Bronze Age axe head', and the police can forensically identify who had come into contact with it."

Ms Dewar added: "The overwhelming majority of metal detecting is done legally, but these guys are outsiders, a small minority, stealing valuable history; it's unacceptable and it's illegal."

Metal detecting enthusiasts are instead encouraged to join a local group or society.

Ms Dewar said: "The last thing we want to do is say don't go out metal detecting. If you are interested, go and join a properly formed group. We love the fact people are interested about history.

"Go out and explore history – but do it the right way."

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