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Detectorists jailed for stealing £12m Viking hoard of gold and silver

The Guardian logo The Guardian 22/11/2019 Steven Morris
Layton Davies and George Powell unearthed a hoard of gold and silver from the Viking era. © West Mercia police Layton Davies and George Powell unearthed a hoard of gold and silver from the Viking era.

Two metal detectorists who unearthed an astonishing hoard of gold jewellery, silver ingots and coins buried more than 1,000 years ago by a Viking warrior in Herefordshire have received lengthy jail sentences for theft.

George Powell, 38, of Newport, and Layton Davies, 51, of Pontypridd, should legally have declared the find, estimated to be worth as much as £12m, but instead they began showing it to dealers to try to sell some of it off.

Sentencing the men on Friday to 10 years and eight and a half years respectively for stealing, Judge Nicholas Cartwright said they had “cheated” not only the landowner, but also the public of “exceptionally rare and significant” coins.

“You cheated the farmer, his mother, the land owner and also the public when you committed theft of these items,” he said. “That is because the treasure belongs to the nation. The benefit to the nation is these items can be seen and admired by others.

“Stealing the items as you did denies the public the opportunity of seeing those items in the way they should be displayed. When treasure is found it belongs, from the moment of finding, to the nation.”

Jewellery and an ingot dating from the 5th to 9th centuries, including a ring and a small crystal ball held by strips of gold that would have been worn as a pendant. © British Museum Jewellery and an ingot dating from the 5th to 9th centuries, including a ring and a small crystal ball held by strips of gold that would have been worn as a pendant.

Among the jewellery, which dated from the fifth to ninth centuries, was a ring, an arm bracelet and a small crystal ball held by strips of gold that would have been worn as a pendant.

All the jewellery and one ingot have been recovered but the majority of the 300 Anglo-Saxon coins that police believe were found remain unaccounted for, to the frustration of historians who see the hoard as hugely important. The recovered items are estimated to be worth around £3m, and the total hoard could have been as much as £12m.

Historians have said the recovered items shine new light on the power struggle in the ninth century, but if the missing items are not returned the chance to find out more about life in the time of King Alfred the Great will be lost.

Powell and Davies made the discovery on land owned by Lord Cawley near Leominster in June 2015. Cawley did not give the pair permission to detect on his land and could be in line for a reward for the recovered items.

Worcester crown court has heard that after making their find, Powell and Davies did not speak to the authorities about their discovery but set about selling the coins. They included two rare “Two Emperors”, believed to depict King Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ceolwulf II of Mercia, revealing a previously unknown pact between the pair.

After rumours began to circulate about the find, the gold and one ingot was handed over but police have recovered only 30 of the 300 coins.

Officers said the case should serve as a warning to other detectorists tempted to not declare finds, and appealed for help in tracing the missing coins.

Herefordshire local policing commander, Supt Sue Thomas, said: “I hope this trial demonstrates to the metal detecting community we take this sort of crime very seriously. It is a criminal offence to not declare finds of treasure to the local coroner’s office.”

DC Nigel Cleeton, of West Mercia police, said: “This is the most unusual investigation I have been involved in … We’re still working with the British Museum and metal detectoring societies. If anything should come up that’s linked to this we would like it back.”

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