12th July 2024

Metal detectorists jailed for conspiring to sell rare Anglo-Saxon coins

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Craig Best (left) and Roger Pilling were also convicted of illegally possessing the coins. Photograph: Will Walker/North News

Two metal detectorists who conspired to illegally sell coins from the period of Alfred the Great have been jailed for more than five years.

Roger Pilling, 75, and Craig Best, 46, were caught in an undercover police sting trying to sell coins, likely buried by a Viking, which should have been declared as treasure and handed to the crown.

The two men were found guilty after a two-week criminal trial at Durham crown court.

On Thursday, Judge James Adkin said he was confident that the coins were part of a larger undeclared hoard found in Leominster in 2015, known as the Herefordshire hoard.

Sentencing them for offences of conspiracy to sell criminal property and possession of criminal property, he jailed them for five years and two months each.

The judge told them the offences were aggravated by their plan to sell the coins abroad, saying: “Had they left this country, they would have been likely to be lost to this nation forever.”

The monetary value of the coins has been estimated at £766,000, but their historical value is arguably far higher and more difficult to quantify.

The judge said the coins had “immense historical significance” while Gareth Williams, the curator of early medieval coins at the British Museum, said: “The coins literally enable us to rewrite history.”

Durham Constabulary launched its investigation, Operation Fantail, after being contacted by the University of Cambridge.

Neither Pilling nor Best, both metal detectorists and coin enthusiasts, were ever accused of finding the coins themselves. The two men who did find the hoard in 2015, Layton Davies and George Powell failed to legally declare it. They were jailed in 2019 for 10 years and eight and a half years respectively.

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