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Two men convicted of conspiring to sell 9th century Anglo-Saxon coins

|News, Fraud and economic crime

Two metal detectorists have been convicted of conspiring to sell criminal property and being in the possession of criminal property after attempting to sell Anglo-Saxon coins from a Viking hoard worth £766,000.
Roger Pilling,73, and Craig Best, 46, were caught following a sting operation by Durham Police after Best tried to sell the coins to an American buyer.

Image of three Anglo-Saxon coins.
Three Anglo-Saxon coins seized by Durham Police.

The ancient coins date back to 879AD under the rule of King Alfred the Great of Wessex and include two extremely rare ‘Two Emperor’ coins which were issued by King Alfred and Ceolwulf II of Mercia.
The discovery of these coins is of great historical and cultural significance as they uncover more secrets of Britain’s past at a time of Viking invasions of England, including the unknown monetary alliance between King Alfred and Ceolwulf II.
The coins also give historians more of an idea of who Ceolwulf II was, portraying him as a king in his own right and a strong ally to Alfred, rather than a ‘puppet’ for the Vikings as previously thought.
Gary Fothergill, a Specialist Prosecutor for CPS North East said: “This has been an incredibly unusual case taking prosecutors and investigators back to the time of ancient Britain and Viking hoards.
“The discovery of these coins has forever shaped the history of Britain. Roger Pilling and Craig Best knew the significance of this hoard and rather than report the coins so they can be studied and provide us with more insights into this country’s history, both plotted to sell them for their own selfish gain.
“Today’s conviction was the result of the extensive work by the investigators and the prosecution team to build a strong case which proved Pilling and Best’s criminal activity. I extend my thanks to Durham Police and the expert witnesses who helped us see both convicted.”       
In September 2018, Best contacted a professor in America who was known for collecting ancient coins and artifacts, as part of his and Pilling’s plot to sell the coins.
The professor contacted a leading UK-based expert to check their authenticity which led to conversations with Dr Gareth Williams from the British Museum and Durham Police beginning an investigation in 2019.
As part of a covert investigation, contact was made with Best to arrange a meeting on 9 May 2019 at the Royal County Hotel in Durham to examine the coins to ensure they were real.
Pilling provided Best with three coins to show the expert and kept the rest of the hoard at his home in Lancashire.
Shortly after Best produced the coins to be examined he was arrested, and Pilling was arrested at his home and the rest of the coins were seized. 44 coins were seized in total.
Neither Pilling nor Best are believed to have found the coins themselves, instead the coins are thought to have been discovered in Leominster, Herefordshire, in a hoard found by two detectorists in 2015. Both men were convicted for not declaring the hoard as treasure under the Treasure Act 1996, alongside others who were involved in a conspiracy to sell criminal property.
Of the 300-coin hoard, 29 coins were discovered by the police in that investigation, with the rest still missing. It was the prosecution’s case that the coins Pilling and Best were in possession of are part of this hoard, and that both Pilling and Best were aware of this and chose not to report it as treasure.
At Durham Crown Court, Roger Pilling and Craig Best have been found guilty of one count of conspiracy to convert criminal property and one count of possessing criminal property. They will be sentenced at a later date.
The coins are currently safely with the British Museum.

Notes to editors

  • Roger Pilling [DOB: 16/04/48] was convicted of one count of conspiracy to convert criminal property and one count of possessing criminal property.
  • Craig Best [DOB: 29/11/76] was convicted of one count of conspiracy to convert criminal property and one count of possessing criminal property.
  • Sentencing will take place on 04/05/23.

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