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An English council has warned metal detectorists not to believe implicitly the claims of rally organisers that their events are compliant with the Government’s covid regulations, but to ensure their own actions are compliant. The warning from Shropshire council on the border with Wales comes as this weekend, as the British people are asked not to come together at royal residences like Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle to commemorate the life of HRH Prince Philip. The organisers of some commercial metal detector rallies are being accused of encouraging similar gatherings in the name of hunting for historic artefacts in breach of Covid regulations.

The controversy arises because, in a statement issued to thePipeLine, Shropshire Council claims that, while they have been in contact with rally organisers Mr Cai Anthony and Mr Charles Lloyd neither Mr Anthony, nor Mr Lloyd have been given permission by the council for events to go ahead in the next few days. While Mr Anthony’s statements placed on Facebook on behalf of Noble Pursuits Metal Detecting acknowledge this, the statement apparently contradicts a claim made on Facebook by the organiser of another of the rallies, Mr Charles Lloyd of Sovereign Metal Detecting.

Posting on Facebook, Mr Anthony claimed that the number of attendees at Noble Pursuits rally near Market Drayton would be capped at 30. However, apparently accurately, he warned would be attendees that the go ahead for the event was dependent on what he heard back from Shropshire Council.

Meanwhile, Mr Charles Lloyd of Sovereign Metal Detecting has announced to a closed Facebook group that an event for thirty detectorists is to take place near Shrewsbury on Sunday and that he has the approval of both the council and the police.

If the events go ahead as advertised Mr Anthony would make £600 and Mr Lloyd £750, although depending on the arrangements made this could be shared with the landowner granting the permission.

The number thirty is significant because “over thirty people” is the benchmark the Government uses to define an illegal event under Covid regulations. Organising such an event for over thirty people could render the organiser liable to a fine of £10,000.

In the past few weeks Mr Lloyd has claimed on Social Media that, because he operates as a metal detecting business, he is exempt from the regulations in any case, as long as Covid regulations regarding track and trace, social distancing and the Rule of Six are maintained. However, some legal opinion and Government advice, contests this as other businesses, including businesses operating outdoors as metal detecting does, have been shut down by the Government under current Covid regulations.

In one post Mr Lloyd claimed also that he had the approval from the council and from West Mercia Police. In the same post he claimed that he had also approached a contact “at Government level” and had been told that as long as social distancing and the rule of six were observed the event was acceptable.

However, to date Mr Lloyd has produced no proof of any of these assertions in the form of correspondence, e-mails, official permits or signed statements from anyone in the police, at Shropshire council, or “at Government level”.

Indeed, the statement from Shropshire Council appears to cast doubt on the nature and extent of any interaction between Mr Lloyd, Mr Anthony and the council and particularly claims that the work arounds the organisers and Mr Lloyd in particular, appear to be relying on to enable the events are either legal and have been permitted.

Asked whether the council had given permission for either Mr Lloyd or Mr Anthony to run rallies in the next few days a spokesperson for Shropshire Council told thePipeLine on Friday [9 April 2021],

“We can confirm that we have been in dialogue with the organiser of these events.”

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However, rather than stating either of the events were indeed permitted the spokesperson said merely,

As a council, we have advised the organiser around the current Government guidance.“[Our italics]

The guidance, published by the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport on the official website, states explicitly that organised metal detecting events such as the proposed rallies where attendees pay for admission are not currently permitted.

On 9 April [2021] the NCMD issued revised guidance to its members regarding events quoting Government advice that, from Monday 12 April, certain events might be organised by a business, charity, public body or similar organisation, as long as people do not mix beyond groups of 6 people [the Rule of Six] or two households. However, this view is not yet reflected in the specific Government guidance regarding metal detecting as published by the DCMS in force at the time of publication. This still states that, organised events, such as the kind of commercial rallies advertised by Mr Anthony and Mr Lloyd, are not permitted.

The new advice, even if it were to apply from 12 April which is far from certain, clearly does not apply to any events held under the existing regulations on Saturday or on Sunday, such as that advertised for Sunday by Mr Lloyd’s Sovereign Metal Detecting.

Under the Government’s Roadmap out of Lockdown, changes to the rules under Step 3 are not due to be introduced until 17 May [2021] at the earliest when larger organised metal detecting events such as those organised by Mr Lloyd and Mr Anthony may well become legal once again under certain conditions.

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The council spokesperson noted that there are currently some exceptions to the regulations, including for,

Physical activity which is carried on outdoors and for which a licence, permit or certificate is issued by a public body to carry on the activity” adding,
Formally organised outdoor sports are permitted.

However, crucially the spokesperson stated that the council does not see metal detecting as a sport.

The spokesperson stated,

Again, we do not think the majority of metal-detecting is classed as a sport – we have been treating it as recreation or exercise.” 

We have been unable to put any questions about the events, their legality or not and the extent of contacts with the council and other authorities to Mr Lloyd or Mr Anthony as they operate as private, members only groups with no public face or contact points accessible to the media and perhaps more importantly, to the authorities. As long as they avoid protected sites and comply with tax and currently covid, law, rally companies are not required to inform anyone of what they are doing or even to observe the National Council for Metal Detecting code of practice, even though many individual detectorists and some rallies, rely on the NCMD for public liability insurance.

What is effectively and an information blackout extends even to heritage authorities such as the local council historic environment team and Historic England, which seek to monitor and conserve local heritage in the public interest and combat the threat of heritage crime, including illegal metal detecting.

Rally companies might counter this by saying that they enable individuals, who may not be a member of a traditional metal detecting club, to access permissions enabling them to enjoy a hobby which is perfectly legal.

Nonetheless the secrecy breeds suspicion among critics of the practice and at the time of writing [Friday 9 April 2021], Sovereign Metal Detecting had removed even the limited information about the event available to the private group, from Facebook.

Such seems the desire to operate with as low a profile, and as little recordable communications, as possible, that one would be attendee was told that if their name was on the list for this Sunday’s event

“Charles [presumably Mr Lloyd] will ring you if you are in.”

That said some at least of Mr Lloyd’s views may be gleaned from recent exchanges with other metal detectorists on Social Media, and seen by thePipeLine.

In one thread a post under Mr Lloyd’s name stated,

“And unlike a lot of you clucking hens out there running around in circles firing over rules and regulations that I might add are only advisory [our italics] and not passed by the law at top level, I suggest you concentrate on the real issues of this world.
The real issue is not to do with lawbreaking or people safety this is to do yet again with a one sided cartel of jealous, troublemaking individuals that are against paid events.
You’re all transparent and for anyone with a brain cell they can see through this circus of performing clowns.”

The Government, the police and council might disagree with the view that the Covid regulations are “only advisory”, and the view was countered by another user who posted,

“I run a group myself. I know how the Law works. No-one wants to keep digs on hold for another few weeks but we do because we actually give a shit about the members who actually come out with us. Maybe try thinking about them and their health before thinking about adding that extra few quid to your back pocket.”

Certainly, in the light of Shropshire Council’s statement anyone attending the events over the next few days would be well advised to follow the advice the spokesperson offered to metal detectorists,

Our advice is that detectorists should follow the published guidance, and that individuals must ensure their activity is permitted in the regulations. Any breaches of the guidance will be handled by the police.”

In other words individual detectorists should not just trust the word of the organisers that an event is lawful, but should make their own checks to ensure they are compliant with Covid regulations.

A spokesperson for West Mercia Police confirmed also the risks detectorists taking part in unauthorised events face, stating that,

“…appropriate action will be taken around any breaches of covid regulations reported to us.”

Were the Police to respond to a tip off or a complaint and find an event was unlawful under covid Regulations participants face fixed penalties of,

  • £60 for the first offence, [reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days] and
  • £120 for the second offence, doubling for each further offence to a maximum of £960

The stakes are high not just for individual metal detectorists who might be found taking part in an unlawful event.

Some metal detectorists are also concerned at the optics of commercial rally companies appearing to bend deliberately, or even break, Covid regulations at a time when the Government is considering making changes to the 1996 Treasure Act.

The fear is that the carefully cultivated image of metal detectorists as citizen archaeologists who are primarily interested in recovering lost history could be blown apart by images of dozens of detectorists let loose in a field to “strip mine” the plough soil, facilitated by companies, promoters and farmers who give the impression their main interest is an unregulated drive for profit and the rewards derived from discovering the occasional treasure hoard.

In other words, far from restoring lost history, metal detecting, at least in its commercial guise the rally, has become in the eyes of critics, including some in their own hobby, an environmental problem, running down a finite, non renewable resource, historic metal artefacts in the ground, without exercising either responsibility or accountability.

thePipeLine has also approached the National Council for Metal Detecting for comment.

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

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