Herefordshire hoard thieves sentenced

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Four men have been found guilty of charges associated with theft and failure to declare a hoard of over 300 Anglo-Saxon coins and items of jewellery.

Double emperor coin - shown on both sides
One of the rare ‘double emperor’ coins recovered from the concealed hoard. [Image: with permission of the Trustees of the British Museum]

Metal-detectorists George Powell (38) and Layton Davies (51) discovered the hoard in a field near Eye, Herefordshire, in 2015, but instead of reporting their finds to the landowner and the coroner as required by the Treasure Act 1996 they conspired with specialist dealers Simon Wicks (57) and Paul Wells (60) to sell the hoard.

Just a few of its contents were reported to the National Museum of Wales after the detectorists were contacted by Peter Reavill, PAS Finds Liaison Officer – but a police investigation revealed the scale of the theft just five weeks after the hoard’s discovery. The homes of the accused men have been searched, but to-date only 31 of the coins and a few items of jewellery have been recovered.

Among the recovered finds are rare ‘double emperor’ coins issued by both Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ceolwulf II of Mercia. These coins suggest that the two kings were of equal status – a fact that Alfred and his successors seem to have erased from the historical records – and offer new information about the unification of England and the relationship between the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex in the 9th century (see CA 311 for other examples of these coins, discovered and legally reported in Oxfordshire).

The hoard also contained a pendant of rock-crystal bound with gold, which is similar to items found in late 6th- and 7th-century graves from Kent and the South-East; a gold armlet with a biting beast terminal; a large gold niello-inlaid ring; several silver ingots; and coins from Arabia and the Frankish kingdoms.

Herefordshire Museum hopes to acquire the remains of the hoard, and archaeological investigation has been carried out to increase understanding of the find. However, the full story of its contents will probably never be known because of the criminal actions of the men involved.

Powell, Davies, Wicks, and Wells were all found guilty at Worcester Crown Court on 21 November, and the following day the first three were sentenced to 10, 8.5, and 5 years in prison respectively. At the time of writing, Wells was due to be sentenced in late December, and a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing will take place in the New Year.

Finders of potential Treasure are legally obliged to report such discoveries, and can contact their regional Finds Liaison Officer for help with this. You can read more about Treasure and the Portable Antiquities Scheme at:

This news article appears in issue 359 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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