Antique dealer who hid part of £12 million Viking coin haul spared jail

24 January 2020, 18:10

Paul Wells and part of the so-called Leominster Hoard
Paul Wells and part of the so-called Leominster Hoard. Picture: West Mercia Police

By Megan White

An antiques dealer who hid part of a £12 million Viking-era hoard of coins inside a magnifying glass has escaped jail after claiming he did not act for personal gain.

Paul Wells, 60, concealed five Anglo-Saxon coins worth up to £75,000 after two metal detectorists unearthed the so-called Leominster Hoard on Herefordshire farmland in 2015.

The hoard, much of which has not been recovered, contained a mixture of intact ornaments, bullion and coins, including two of a type issued by King Alfred the Great of Wessex in the late ninth century.

Wells was found guilty of conspiracy to conceal criminal property in November last year alongside three other men, who have already been jailed for between five and ten years for their roles in not declaring details of the hoard to the authorities.

Worcester Crown Court was told on Friday how Wells, who has previously suffered a heart attack and has continuing health problems, handed the five coins to a police officer during an interview in September 2015.

Two of the Viking-era coins found among the haul
Two of the Viking-era coins found among the haul. Picture: West Mercia Police

Wells was given a 12-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, ordered to complete 240 hours of unpaid work within the next year, and told to undertake 15 days of rehabilitation activity.

Passing sentence, Judge Nicolas Cartwright said the antiques dealer had a "limited function" in the conspiracy after three pieces of jewellery and a number of coins were brought to his stall in Cardiff's Jacobs Market on June 4, 2015.

The judge told Wells: "It was immediately clear to you that these were valuable items of some antiquity.

"On the finding of the jury you entered into this agreement to conceal these coins knowing they were stolen or intending that they should be.

The items were described as an "important find" by historians
The items were described as an "important find" by historians. Picture: West Mercia Police

"You concealed these coins for three months, which I find to be a sustained period of time.

"As far as whether there was any personal gain envisaged by you, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot come to a finding today one way or the other about that.

"Having read the medical reports upon you and the contents of the pre-sentence report, this is a sentence I feel able to suspend."

Wells - who was told that his unpaid work may include a placement in a charity shop - showed no emotion as he was sentenced.