Metal detectorists who stole £12m Viking treasure trove jailed for nearly 20 years

22 November 2019, 15:07 | Updated: 22 November 2019, 16:37

Two metal detectorists who stole Viking coins and jewellery worth up to £12m have been jailed for nearly 20 years.

George Powell, 38, of Newport, who was described as having the "leading role", was jailed for 10 years, and Layton Davies, 51, of Pontypridd, was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in jail.

The pair failed to declare the "invaluable" collection of buried treasure dating back 1,100 years to the birth of a united English kingdom, during the time of Alfred the Great.

If they had declared the find, as the law requires, they would have made at least £500,000 each, the judge said.

The treasure was dug up on Herefordshire farmland on 2 June 2015 but most of it is still missing after being sold or hidden.

It is thought the trove, much of which was Anglo Saxon but typical of a Viking burial hoard, was buried by someone from the Great Viking Army in either 878 or 879.

By that time, the army was being forced back east by an alliance of Saxon forces.

Powell and Davies were convicted alongside two other men, Paul Wells, 60, of Cardiff, and 57-year-old Simon Wicks, of Hailsham, East Sussex, who were found guilty of conspiring to conceal the find.

Judge Nicholas Cartwright, sentencing the group at Worcester Crown Court on Friday, said they had "cheated" not only the landowner and the farmer but the public of "exceptionally rare and significant" coins.

He said: "Ninety per cent of the coins or thereabouts remain hidden to this day.

"The irony in this case is if you, George Powell, and you, Layton Davies, had obtained the permissions and agreements which responsible metal detectorists are advised to obtain, if you had gone on to act within the law after you found this treasure, you could have expected to have either a half share, or at very worst a third share of over £3m to share between the two of you.

"You could not have done worse than £500,000 each.

"But you wanted more."

Prosecutor Kevin Hegarty said the hoard's value had been estimated at between £3m and £12m, as he said a find of "immense archaeological, historical and academic value" had been lost to the nation.

Among the priceless hoard was a ninth century gold ring, a dragon's head bracelet, a silver ingot, a crystal rock pendant from the fifth century and up to 300 coins, some dating to the reign of King Alfred.

Only 31 of the coins have been recovered despite photographs on Davies's phone - deleted but recovered by police - showing the larger hoard, still intact, in a freshly dug hole.

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

The recovered jewellery and coinage is now held at the British Museum where experts valued it at least £581,000.

Wicks, Powell and Davies were also found guilty of converting their stolen stockpile into cash, after police traced several coins sold to private collectors, hidden or left with expert valuers.

All four were convicted after trial of ignoring the law stating such finds must be properly declared.

Wells, who was taken ill on Thursday from court, will be sentenced next month.

Coin collector Wicks, who had previous convictions for "night-hawking" - searching with a metal detector without the landowner's permission - from 2014, was jailed for five years.