Metal detectors plunder heritage site

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TWO metal-detecting enthusiasts were caught red-handed plundering an ancient Roman and Iron Age archeological site in Northamptonshire.

Peter Cox, 69, and Darren West, 51, were arrested while in the process of stealing ancient artefacts from Chester Farm, near Irchester.

Northampton Crown Court heard the site contained the remains of an Iron Age settlement, a walled Roman town and its suburbs, ancient fields and parkland, a deserted medieval village and areas of more recent ironstone extraction.

John Lloyd-Jones, prosecuting, said the extensive site was of special archeological interest so was listed as a protected scheduled ancient site under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

He said: “These two defendants have been entering that site without permission and effectively stealing coins and other items.”

The court heard on July 26 last year, they were spotted detecting on the site, but when approached they walked on to neighbouring farmland where they were tracked by a police dog. They had maps, a compass, four metal detectors, shovels and spades. He added: “Mr West has been selling coins on the internet but the prosecution cannot say they are from Chester Farm.”

Adjourning sentence and granting bail, Judge Sylvia De Bertodano told the pair, who are both from Kettering: “Please be under no illusions. This is a serious case and the likely outcome is custody.”

Councillor Heather Smith, Northamptonshire County Council’s cabinet member for customers and communities, said: “As a scheduled ancient monument, Chester Farm is of exceptional national importance, so these offences were extremely serious.

“I think this court case sends out the message that the county council will not hesitate to prosecute anyone who interferes with the site and Northamptonshire will not tolerate anyone who contemplates a crime against heritage.

“We will never know the full extent of the damage caused by these criminals, to a site of such cultural importance, which saddens me immensely.”

Peter Cox, aged 69, of Thirlmere Close, Kettering and Darren West, aged 51, of Duke Street, Kettering, pleaded guilty to five joint charges.

They admitted damaging an ancient monument between January and July 2011, thefts of artefacts from Whitworth Holdings, which owns adjacent land, as well stealing as from a neighbouring farm.

They also admitted thefts of artefacts from Northamptonshire County Council, which is responsible for Chester Farm, and going equipped for theft. Cox also admitted possessing a pepper spray canister.

Daniel Chadwick, for West, said at a hearing earlier this month: “The Crown’s case is these men are not out-and-out treasure robbers. They clearly had some sort of relationship with the local finds officer at the county council and their local archeological society.”

Judge Richard Bray said at the time: “You cannot go round stealing important items of cultural heritage.”