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Lead Image: The Fixed Penalty Notice apparently issued to three metal detectorists by Sussex Police

[Via Facebook-Fair Use]

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Me? In the Woods? At 11.30 at Night, With A Metal Detector, With My Reputation?

I must be in breach of Covid Regulations.

The ability of Sussex Police to recognise and respond to the Heritage Crime of illegal metal detecting is in question after the publication on Facebook of what appears to be a fixed penalty notice issued under the Covid Regulations. The notice seems to indicate that three men, questioned after being stopped in woodland in close to the Surrey/Sussex border, with metal detectors at 11.30 on a Saturday night, were apparently not questioned about the possibility they were engaged in illegal metal detecting.

The notice, which was posted on Facebook by an individual from London, who cannot be confirmed as one of the individuals fined, and which was passed to thePipeLine, begins by confirming the time and location of the alleged contravention of the “Health Protection [Coronavirus, Restrictions] [All Tiers] [England] Regulations 2020“, under which the men were issued fixed penalties.

The notice states that,

“On 30/01/2021 at A281 Rudgwick, at 23.30pm you were found to be in contravention of the regulations…”

The notice goes on to describe the circumstances of the alleged contravention,

“3 males were found in woods with metal detectors. They explained they had travelled from their homes in London for the weekend to carry out metal detecting.

All three were therefore fined for non-essential travel from London.”

The Covid Regulations Notice apparently issued to three metal detectorists by Sussex Police, as published on Facebook
[Fair Use for the purpose of reporting]

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Given that illegal metal detecting is often carried out at night and legitimate metal detecting with the permission of landowners is an activity which generally takes place in daylight, it is unclear why the men appear not to have been questioned about why they were, where they were, with metal detectors and whether they had permission from the landowner to be on the land where they were found at any time of day?

The Sussex Police press office was e-mailed by thePipeLine using its official contact form and asked to confirm if the notice published on Facebook was genuine and if so , if the officer[s] making the report had also questioned the men regarding why they were in woods, half an hour before midnight on a Saturday night, while they were carrying metal detectors?

We also asked if the names of the men had been been passed to the Sussex Rural Crime Team which handles allegations of heritage crime and whether there was an ongoing investigation into the activities of the three men.

Up to the time of publication no comment has been received from Sussex Police.

The timeline of the Sussex Police Rural Crime Team twitter account contains no mention of this event, suggesting that either they do not know about it, or the team does not want to publicise the event unduly.

However, the Rural Crime Team are aware of the issue of illegal metal detecting and were actively pursuing reports of such activity during Sunday 31 January 2021, the day following the Rudgwick stop.

On that day the Rural Crime Team reported an incident of illegal metal detecting on the South Downs at the opposite end of the county. The team next reported it was out looking for illegal poaching and metal detecting on 12 February, but again the location was the South Downs.

It is important to point out that Police resources are stretched and specialist teams such as the Rural Crime Team tend to plan and respond on an intelligence led basis, hence the reported patrol after reports of illegal activity by detectorists on the South Downs. This means that if there was no intelligence that the Rudgwick area was a likely target for illegal detecting the force would be unlikely to put in place additional, or targeted, patrols and observations, while the local Police officers covering the area might not have the same level of awareness as their more specialised colleagues.

However, this does not explain the apparent lack of curiosity on the part of the officer[s] involved in reporting the three men.

Adding to the questions around the incident, two archaeologists familiar with Sussex consulted by this website were unable to suggest a known or likely target in the Rudgwick area which might be attractive to detectorists, although there is a known Roman Road through the area.

Asked about the apparent failure of the Police to address on this occasion the issue of possible attempted theft using metal detectors [sometimes known popularly as Nighthawking] an archaeologist familiar with the subject of illegal metal detecting commented,

“I can only think it was near the end of the shift and they didn’t want to do the paperwork.”

That or the officer[s] involved did not get the memo about heritage crime.

The Facebook post was subsequently deleted.

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thePipeLine is an independent news publication that investigates the place that heritage, politics, and money meet.

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