Two metal detectorists convicted of stealing £3m Viking hoard

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Two metal detectorists have been convicted of stealing a £3m hoard of Viking coins and priceless jewellery – much of which is still missing.

George Powell and Layton Davies failed to declare the “invaluable” collection of buried treasure which dated back 1,100 years to the reign of King Alfred the Great.

Prosecutors said the items, many of which were Anglo Saxon but are typical of a Viking burial hoard, were dug up on Herefordshire farmland in June 2015.

A gold ring from the 9th century which was part of a £3m Viking hoard
Image: A gold ring from the 9th century which was part of a £3m Viking hoard

Among the priceless hoard was a 9th century gold ring, a dragon’s head bracelet, a silver ingot, a crystal rock pendant dating to the 5th century and up to 300 coins, Worcester Crown Court heard.

Expert analysis of all the jewellery and coinage recovered to date, which is now held at the British Museum, returned a valuation of at least £581,000.

Five of the coins are examples of the exceptionally rare Two Emperors penny, valued at up to £50,000 apiece, and so-called as they depict King Alfred and a lesser known monarch, Ceolwulf II, who reigned in the old kingdom of Mercia, sitting together.

Only 31 of the coins have been recovered, although mobile phone photographs – later deleted, but recovered by police – showed the larger hoard, still intact, in a freshly dug hole.

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As to the fate of the rest of the coins and items in the hoard, prosecuting barrister Kevin Hegarty QC told jurors: “They have not been found.

“They must be concealed in one or more places or by now having been concealed have been dispersed never to be reassembled as a hoard of such coinage again.”

A rock crystal pendant chased in gold, dating from the 5th century
Image: A rock crystal pendant chased in gold, dating from the 5th century

Powell, 38, and Davies, 51, were also convicted alongside two other men, 60-year-old Paul Wells and Simon Wicks, 57, with conspiring to conceal the find.

Davies told the court he and Powell dug the jewellery out of two separate holes but photographs taken on his phone and later deleted clearly showed the trove as one.

He also alleged Powell had then planted some coins, which he already owned, in the hole for “staged” photographs, to give the items greater provenance and value.

One of the coins that Powell and Davies held
Image: One of the coins that Powell and Davies held

One of the images appeared to show many more silver ingots than the one recovered by police but the men claimed these were simply bullet casings.

Both men also claimed talk of a 300-coin hoard had been a rumour, insisting that the only coins they found were declared to the National Museum Wales, in Cardiff, at a meeting in July.

However, they were undone by evidence including deleted photos of a much larger hoard on Davies’s phone and the recovery of various coins, including five concealed in a magnifying glass case and volunteered to police by Wells.

A dark gold arm bangle with a dragon's or serpent's head design from the 9th century
Image: A dark gold arm bangle with a dragon’s or serpent’s head design from the 9th century

Wicks, Powell and Davies were also found guilty of converting their ill-gotten gains into cash, after police traced several coins that had been sold on to private collectors, hidden away or left with expert valuers.

All four men were convicted of ignoring the law stating such finds must be properly declared, in a bid to sell the items in small batches.

After the verdicts, Wells was allowed to leave the dock after becoming unwell, and an ambulance was then called for him by court staff.

Powell, from Newport; Davies, from Pontypridd; Wells, from Cardiff; and Wicks, from Hailsham, East Sussex, were remanded in custody ahead of sentencing,

The case was adjourned until Friday.

Two metal detectorists convicted of stealing £3m hoard of Viking coins and jewellery

Two metal detectorists have been convicted of stealing a £3m hoard of Viking coins and priceless jewellery – much of which is still missing. George Powell and Layton Davies failed to declare the “invaluable” collection of buried treasure which dated back 1,100 years to the reign of King Alfred the Great.

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