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Collectors guilty of illegal plot to sell historic Anglo-Saxon coins abroad

Two metal detectorists have been found guilty of hatching an illegal plot to sell Anglo-Saxon coins of “immense historical significance” abroad.

Craig Best, 46, and Roger Pilling, 75, were convicted of conspiring to sell criminal property worth £766,000, namely ninth century coins believed to have been buried by a Viking and which have never been declared as Treasure, and have not been handed to the Crown.

Following a trial at Durham Crown Court, the defendants were also convicted of separate charges of possessing the criminal property, which was thought to be part of a larger, undeclared find known as the Herefordshire Hoard.

Best, of South View, Bishop Auckland, was arrested with three coins at a Durham hotel in May 2019 in a police sting operation.

Best thought he was meeting a metals expert, employed by a broker working for a wealthy US-based buyer, but was in fact speaking to an undercover detective.

Pilling, who owned an engineering business, was arrested at his home in Loveclough, Lancashire, and a further 41 coins were seized.

These 44 coins originated from the Herefordshire Hoard, discovered in 2015, worth millions of pounds, and which was also not declared.

Four people have already been convicted for their roles in concealing that find.

The undercover police operation was set up after Best tried to sell coins to a real American collector, who then contacted UK-based experts about the apparent availability of extremely rare and valuable examples, and the authorities were alerted.

It was believed the coins were made between 874 CE and 879 CE and were buried by a Viking during this particularly violent period of English history.

They included two extremely rare examples of two-headed coins, showing Alfred of Wessex and Ceolwulf, a figure who was discredited by Saxon writers as a Viking puppet ruler.

Following the conviction, Durham Constabulary’s Detective Superintendent Lee Gosling, said: “This is an extremely unusual case, as it is not very often we get the chance to shape British history.

“It is astonishing that the history books need re-writing because of this find.

“These coins come from a hoard of an immense historical significance relating to the Vikings and we are delighted that they are now with the British Museum.

“This has been a lengthy and complex investigation and I would like to thank our specialist officers and the historical experts for all their help.”

Dr Gareth Williams, a coin expert from the British Museum, said: “New finds have the potential to increase our knowledge.

“The coins are very much part of our heritage.

“The theft of finds like this are not just a theft from the landowner, who have rights, it is a theft of our heritage.”

Judge James Adkin said the sentencing exercise would be “complicated” as the offence was rare and he adjourned the case until Thursday.

Remanding them in custody, he told the pair: “You have both been convicted of what I consider to be compelling evidence of serious criminality, in relation to these artefacts.

“You are both aware of what the sentence is likely to be, imprisonment for years.”