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7 November 2009
Father and son cleared of illegal treasure hunting in England

A father and son team of treasure hunters who were accused of illegally removing 3000 year old artefacts from an Uttlesford estate (Essex, England) while acting as metal detecting 'nighthawks', were recently cleared. They were found not guilty in a Crown Court test case prosecution which has been closely watched by treasure hunters throughout the country.
     Bronze Age axe heads, spearheads and a chisel were found when the two men caught while operating at about 5am in the 'dark and rain,' on land belonging to Lord Braybrooke without permission, Ipswich Crown Court was told. Paul Hitchens and son Paul Anthony Hitchens had denied theft of Bronze Age artefacts belonging to the Crown and had told the court they had intended to report the finds officially but had been stopped by police before they had an opportunity to do so. The items were thought to have been worth around £2000.
     Prosecutor Richard Wood had told the court that the two defendants were found very early in the morning about a mile from the village of Littlebury when a police officer 'by chance' noticed them. "They accepted they had been metal detecting and accepted they didn't have permission from the landowner. Searching their vehicle, the police officer found a number of Bronze Age artefacts", he said. Mr Wood had insisted the two men were "caught in the act of stealing although they said they were going to hand them over to the proper authorities". He added: "The Crown says they were going to keep them for themselves." Mr Wood had talked about the problem of 'nighthawking' where people "go out in the middle of the night using metal detectors intending to keep what they find". The Crown says they were doing that. "It was a remote, rural area, 5.30am, dark, raining - they didn't have permission to be there and they didn't volunteer the items were in the car. They gave inconsistent accounts."
     This verdict has implications for all who head out to the countryside with metal detectors in search of treasure. And its outcome clearly doesn't help much those who do their best to avoid the loss of historical source material in Britain.

Source: Reporter 24 (30 October 2009)

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