Heritage partnership snares illegal metal detector


An illegal metal detector has been convicted of theft, following an investigation by a heritage crime partnership in Lincolnshire.

Operation Totem was launched by Lincolnshire Police to address reports and concerns from members of farming community who were suffering from trespassers carrying out illegal metal detecting, sometimes referred to as Nighthawking. Much of this was going on during the night. Significant damage was being caused to crops and artefacts were being stolen from out of the ground.

This case commenced when police searched premises in Scholes, near Rotherham. Information was obtained regarding the defendant Kevin Lomas aged 41  from Scholes. A warrant was executed by a team of officers from Horncastle assisted by South Yorkshire Police and English Heritage

During the execution of the warrant a large quantity of coins and historic artefacts were seized along with a quantity of metal detecting equipment.

Over the next 12 months in depth and lengthy enquires were carried out by the Operation Totem team to identify the property seized and gather evidence. Some items were taken to the British Museum and examined by experts.

The Heritage Crime co-ordinator for CPS East Midlands worked with the team providing legal and charging advice. 

Lomas appeared before the District Judge John Stobbart at Skegness Magistrates Court on Tuesday 21st August 2012. He was found guilty of eight counts of theft and one offence of going equipped to steal.

An order was made forcing him to forfeit his metal detection equipment and associated items. He received a 12 month condition discharge and was ordered to pay £400 towards costs.

Sergeant Alasdair Booth of Horncastle Police, Lincolnshire led the operation, he said,

"Operation Totem was introduced to deal with concerns raised by members of the farming community who were suffering from persons illegally using metal detectors on their property. This was resulting in significant damage to crops and the loss of unique historic artefacts.

"A great deal of work was carried out by the officers involved in the operation to bring offenders to justice and to send out a clear message that illegal metal detecting and heritage crime will be taken seriously. Many people seem to hold the opinion that metal detecting is a harmless hobby and feel that they have a right to roam and use their equipment at will, where they like, without permission or any likelihood of facing the consequences. Whilst there are many responsible people who legitimately enjoy metal detecting with the permission of land owners, whilst using the proper channels to register and dispose of items that they may find, there are a small minority who persist in operating outside the law."

Mark Holmes, Senior Crown Prosecutor, CPS East Midlands said,

"This case was unusual and not straightforward to prosecute. However, thanks to joint working with the police and English Heritage, by the time the case came to court, the evidence against Mr Lomas was compelling.

"It is important that the nighthawking 'community' sit up and take notice that this is not a harmless activity, but a criminal activity that robs us all of our historical heritage.

"If it takes a prosecution and one of these individuals to walk away from court with a criminal record for this point to be made, then so be it. Nighthawking is a crime and where it is detected, the CPS will work with our partners to ensure the perpetrators face the consequences of their criminal actions."

Mark Harrison, National Policing and Crime Advisor Heritage Crime Programme & Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (ARCH), English Heritage said,

"Cases of unlawful metal detecting have been prosecuted before, but this is the first time we have taken such a co-ordinated team approach, involving an expert lawyer, dedicated police investigators, finds experts and archaeologists. 

"This is the first case to have been investigated in this way since the development of ARCH - the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage.

"ARCH is supported by English Heritage, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and a growing number of local authorities and community safety partnerships, and is designed to protect England's historic sites and buildings, for this and future generations

"This case sets a valuable template for the investigation of future cases elsewhere in the country."