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One of England’s leading promoters of commercial metal detecting rallies, Shropshire based Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys, stands accused of misrepresenting advice from the Portable Antiquities Scheme in order to promote a potential commercial metal detecting event in August. The Portable Antiquities Scheme or PAS, was set up to record archaeological finds made by the public, and to offer technical and legal guidance regarding such finds. However, in addition to the alleged misrepresentation of specific advice given by the PAS to the rally group in December, thePipeLine can reveal that Sovereign are also described as having “contested” advice offered by the PAS with regard to other finds made by members of the group which might fall within the scope of the Treasure Act 1996. It appears that staff of the PAS were so concerned that they felt obliged to inform the local coroner, and the Treasure Committee based at the British Museum, about potential treasure finds reported on the Sovereign Facebook page.

On 20 April thePipeLine was shown a post under the name of Charles Lloyd, published on the private Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys Facebook group.

Mr Lloyd is a partner in Sovereign Metal Detecting Holidays, and is the organiser of the separate Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys whose events are held in Mr Lloyd’s home county of Shropshire.

The group claims one thousand five hundred members on its Facebook page.

In the post, which appeared under Mr Lloyds name, members of the Facebook group were told,

“The back end of August can’t come soon enough for Sovereign.
James Price and I did a recce on one of our fields just before it was re-drilled. this exquisite rare decorated Saxon gold mount which the flo eagerly want us to revisit with a good number of people to determine if this is part of a possible hoard??”

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The original post by Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys claiming that the FLO for Shropshire wanted the group to revisit the site where the Saxon mount, pictured here, had been found.
[Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys via Facebook: Fair use for the purpose of reporting news]

This appeared to suggest that the Finds Liason Officer, or FLO, for Shropshire had asked two metal detectorists, presumed to be Mr Lloyd and Mr James Price who is named in the post, representing a commercial metal detecting group, not just to scope a potentially significant new archaeological site, but to do so with a “good number of people” in August. the period after any crop on the site is likely to have been harvested.

The Finds Liaison Officer for Shropshire is Peter Reavill. He is highly regarded among archaeologists and finds specialists working with the Portable Antiquities Scheme and in a situation where a significant new site was suspected he would normally be expected to liaise with the county heritage team, calling in a professional archaeological contractor if further investigation was thought necessary. It follows that a request such as that suggested by Sovereign in the Facebook post was, on the face of it, highly unusual.

The supposed request becomes even more unusual, if not downright unethical in archaeological terms, in the light of the way the post continued,

“This design [of the gold mount] matches exactly with a few items that was found in the Staffordshire hoard. This field is in Shropshire and with this one item alone has given this land highly desirable status.”

This paragraph can only be read as a nudge and a wink to the group that the land concerned could be harbouring another “Staffordshire Hoard”. That is the world famous collection of over four and a half thousand Saxon artefacts uncovered by metal detectorist Terry Herbert in 2009 and eventually investigated by archaeologists, apparently after Mr Herbert was overwhelmed by the sheer number of artefacts he had spent several days uncovering.

It was the possibility such a major Saxon hoard might be present at the location in Shropshire which the post suggested the FLO wanted Sovereign’s metal detectorists to investigate.

However, Sovereign does not routinely organise free metal detecting surveys to archaeological standards, and using as it does trigger words such as “rare”, “gold”, “hoard” and “Staffordshire Hoard”, the post seemed to be carefully designed as a “come on” to potential paying clients from the group, were Sovereign to organise the proposed investigation as one of its regular pay to search rallies.

However, such a course of action, including ascribing importance to a parcel of land because of the monetary value of objects it might contain, would go against all archaeological best practice, not to mention the advice offered in the voluntary Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting [England], which amongst other things states a metal detectorist should seek…

“…expert help if you discover something below the ploughsoil, or a concentration of finds or unusual material, or wreck remains.

Indeed, so unusual and unprofessional, did the claim that this request had been made seem that thePipeLine approached Professor Michael Lewis, the head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme who is based at the British Museum.

We asked Professor Lewis if FLO Peter Reavill had indeed asked Mr Lloyd and Sovereign to investigate the site of the find in August with a “good number of people”? In the interest of openness and fairness we also copied in Mr Reavill into the request.

The following narrative is based on an e-mail, sent to thePipeLine by Professor Lewis and Mr Reavill, which offered a detailed narrative of the events around the find of the Saxon mount, as seen by the PAS.

According to their account there was one problem with version of events posted under Mr Lloyds name on Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallies page. That is that the post could be described using the same word that Captain E Blackadder used to explain the theory of deterrence before World War One.

The claim was effectively bollocks.

Or as Professor Lewis and Mr Reavill put it rather more politely on behalf of the Portable Antiquities Scheme,

“The information that Mr Lloyd has used to promote this rally in this regard is incorrect.” 

The PAS officers told us that the gold artefact used in the April post to advertise Sovereign Metal Detecting’s possible commercial rally for August 2021 had been reported by the finder via email to the PAS as potential treasure in December 2020, adding that it was discovered on land which Mr Charles Lloyd had permission to metal detect in Shropshire.

Thus far so legal and proper. 

The narrative continued, stating that in a telephone conversation with Mr Lloyd following up on the report, Finds Liaison Officer, Peter Reavill, advised Sovereign that the find was of archaeological importance and, as it had been recovered from a shallow depth within the disturbed plough soil, it would most probably be a casual loss rather than a deliberate deposit as might be expected with a buried hoard.

The PAS further stated that other potential causes of the loss of the mount were discussed with Mr Lloyd by Mr Reavill, including the possibility of it being part of a disturbed burial, or that it belonged to a larger hoard of material. However, Mr Reavill was of the opinion that both these possibilities, that of the mount coming from a burial, or from a hoard, are unlikely. Indeed, reinforcing that view, either possibility would be unique within the archaeological record for Shropshire as it is understood currently by archaeologists.  

That said, given the nature and context of the find it was stated that Mr Reavill did suggest that it might be useful if Mr Lloyd and the finder were to return to the find spot.

However, crucially, this return visit was not to be made in August, let alone “with a good number of people” as the Facebook post stated, but during the fortnight following the conversation, prior to the sowing of the new season’s crop by the farmer.

According to the PAS narrative Mr Lloyd was advised by Mr Reavill that the object of such a visit would be simply to search further the unstratified ploughzone in the immediate vicinity of the initial find in case any additional, or associated, material was present. Material which which might refine and clarify the nature of the original find of the gold mount.

It is stressed in the PAS narrative that, in the view of the FLO Mr Reavill, such a search was designed to be small scale and limited and that advice was given that, should any further finds be recovered at the location, Mr Lloyd and the original finder should contact the PAS immediately.

FLO Reavill also told thePipeLine that Mr Lloyd was told explicitly that, if signals were identified below the ploughzone in undisturbed ground, they should stop the search and contact PAS for further advice.  

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An independent finds experts consulted by thePipeLine confirms that this is standard advice given to all finders who search within the disturbed ploughzone and it is in accordance with the Code of Conduct for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales.  

The PAS narrative confirmed that the next stage in the treasure process will be for the find of the gold mount to be formally deposited with PAS / Shropshire Museums’ when the current covid situation allows. Following this a detailed specialist report for HM Coroner will be produced.  

Adding that prior to the inquest he was unable to comment further on the nature of the find, FLO Peter Reavill concluded, 

“I have written to Mr Lloyd to ask him to amend his facebook post to clarify this matter in accordance with my advice of December.”

At the time of writing [30 April 2021] the post under Mr Lloyd’s name remains as originally written and the clarifications and amendments requested by Mr Reavill have not been made.

thePipeLine emailed Mr Lloyd and also messaged him via his Facebook account and asked why the post has not yet been amended as requested by Mr Reavill and when it will be so amended?  

In the course of answering thePipeLine’s questions about Mr Lloyd’s post and the suggestion that an FLO might ask a commercial metal detecting operation to undertake a sensitive archaeological survey as Mr Lloyd claimed, the PAS also stated,

Mr Lloyd is not correct in this regard. His commercial rally company would neither be an appropriate nor suitable option under any circumstance for such survey work.”  

The PAS account also included this statement on the subject of metal detecting rallies in general.

“Large scale metal-detecting events (rallies) do not provide the ideal circumstances for Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) staff to record finds in the field and can therefore result in the loss of much archaeological information, including information about the findspot.  

As such PAS relies on individual metal detectorists to follow the code of conduct for responsible metal detecting and to report their findings to their local finds liaison officer.” 

thePipeLine also asked about another rally promoted by Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys which took place on the weekend of 24/25 April 2021. It was one of at least two rallies held by Sovereign in Shropshire since the England moved to Step 2 of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

This rally was advertised as being at a “Roman Marching Camp field.” at Frodesley.

Again the notice advertising the rally appeared on Sovereign’s private Facebook group and was not visible to the wider public, or to local or national heritage authorities, that is unless they were either able to join the group, or were passed information by a member of the group. 

In the post advertising the Frodesley rally Mr Lloyd repeated the pattern of other posts, this time using the trigger word “Roman” and claiming numerous finds had been made on previous visits to the location, including a find of what was described in the post as “hack gold”. “gold” of course being another trigger word designed to catch the eye of would be attendees at the commercial events.

As with the Saxon mount used to promote the potential August event, the Treasure Act [1996] requires that any archaeological item containing precious metal must be reported to the local coroner and the description “Hack Gold” suggested that the artefact, whatever it was, should have been thus reported and subject to recording and a claim made to the Treasure Committee, based at the British Museum.

While legally the first point of contact in the Treasure process is the coroner, the Portable Antiquities Scheme is configured to operate as the liaison between a finder and the coroner, advising both impartially, and with FLO’s writing technical reports about finds for the coroners treasure inquest. Thus the regional FLO would reasonably expect to be informed about Treasure Finds which had been reported to the coroner, with finds also usually appearing on the regionally organised PAS database.  

However, when thePipeLine checked there was no find of “Hack Gold” recorded in Shropshire on the publicly accessible version of the PAS database. 

Asked about this apparent discrepancy the Portable Antiquities Scheme told thePipeLine that it had been made aware of this find on 8 August 2020, but only when it was published on the facebook page belonging to Mr Lloyd’s group, Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme then confirmed that the subject of this find, along with other examples of potential treasure which may have remained unreported from recent digs in and around Frodesley, was raised by email with both HM Coroner for the area and with the treasure team at the British Museum.

While there is currently no evidence that Sovereign Metal Detecting rallies have done anything illegal, or that any investigation into the way Sovereign, or its detectorist clients, handled the reporting of these finds is under way, such a move on the part of the PAS might be regarded as unusual. Legally the responsibility to report finds under the Treasure Act lies with the finder and the system is generally respected and works well.

However, thePipeLine understands that notifying the two bodies with legal responsibility for the administration of treasure finds would be the necessary precursor to an investigation if it was suspected that offences under the Treasure Act might have been committed. For example by not reporting a treasure find within the period stipulated in the Treasure Act which is fourteen days from the day after the find, or from when the finder is first aware the find may be treasure.

The Treasure Act contains clauses relating to “bad faith” and any irregularities in reporting might affect any potential treasure award.

The legal consequences for not reporting finds as required by the Treasure Act can also be serious.

As this article was being completed the news broke that a well known Essex based metal detectorist, Shane Wood [62], had been convicted in Chemsford Magistrates Court of theft and failure to inform the coroner of a treasure find, . The charges related to Iron Age coins worth up to £12,350, which Mr Wood said he found in September 2020.

The court heard that Mr Wood did not himself notify the coroner, Instead the find was notified by a third party.

Mr Wood’s girlfriend, Kim Holman of Chadwell Heath, Romford, East London, also admitted an offence of failing to notify the coroner of the discovery of one Iron Age gold Stater. As a result she faces a £160 fine and was ordered to pay £139 in costs and a victim surcharge.

Mr Wood was sentenced to undertake 200 hours of unpaid community work and required to pay £200 to the court. The court also instructed that his metal detector be destroyed.

In this context it is worth mentioning that Shropshire FLO Peter Reavill and the PAS may have been concerned that the attitude of Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys to their responsibilities under the Treasure Act may have been, at the very least, sloppy.

Mr Reavill confirmed that in his telephone conversations with Mr Lloyd regarding the gold mount,

I have also used this opportunity to remind him and members of his rally group of their obligations in relation to the Treasure Act 1996.

How much impact this reminder had is questionable as the PAS account added that Mr Lloyd and his team at Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallies had “contested” the opinion of local PAS staff in phone conversations regarding alleged treasure and had also contested other advice from the PAS.

The PAS stated Mr Reavill was however able to liaise directly with the finder of the material from Frodesley. The item of ‘hack gold’ was subsequently reported to the coroner as potential treasure and has been assigned a treasure tracking number.

The PAS stated it was unable to provide further information on this find prior to the coroner’s inquest.

While metal detecting itself remains perfectly legal and many responsible metal detectorists report their finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, often working with archaeologists to identify and research new sites, these new accusations concerning a high profile rally group, Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys, which operates in an archaeologically rich and sensitive county, Shropshire, come at an embarrassing time for commercial rally organisers like Sovereign.

Incorrect claims suggesting that a Finds Liaison Officers had requested what would effectively be a treasure hunt only serve to highlight the impression that rallies function primarily as money making operations, founded on pumping the prospect of valuable finds from finds rich periods such as the Roman or Medieval, while functioning with little or no accountability and in some cases allegedly seeking actively to bypass or contest what little accountability does exist.

Indeed, when thePipeLine investigated one of Mr Lloyd’s previous events, held close to a scheduled Roman villa, the County Archaeologist for Shropshire, Dr Andy Wigley stated that,

“In terms of metal detecting rallies in general, we co-ordinate of a regular basis with our PAS Finds Liaison Officer, Peter Reavill…regarding these events. I understand this particular organisation [Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys] is known to him, but do not co-operate with him.”

In addition to the lack of accountability many archaeologists, and even some metal detectorists, have been expressing increasing concern at the sheer scale of rally events the largest of which which can see hundreds of detectorists spending £25 or more per day to detect fields without any form of regulation outside of the requirement to avoid legally protected scheduled sites, and with no requirement to report finds unless they fall within the scope of the Treasure Act [1996].

Some detectorists express concern that the financial muscle of the rally promoters allows them to effectively landbank permissions, driving out individual detectorists and the older, smaller, local metal detecting clubs which are not geared to offer landowners hundreds of pounds per day to detect on their land.

A further concern among archaeologists is that, as is the case with Mr Lloyd’s events for Sovereign, metal detecting rallies are also increasingly advertised by rally promoters as being close to, or even on, known or suspected archaeological sites.

This raises again the suspicion that the aim is less recovering fresh knowledge regarding the history and archaeology of the sites than attracting paying customers through offering the prospect of finding plenty of buried artefacts, unknown numbers of which end up unseen and unrecorded in private collections, or which may sold privately and perfectly legally, through platforms like E-Bay, or even by commercial auctioneers. At least one such company, Derbyshire based Hansons, employs a metal detecting specialist Adam Staples, who as thePipeLine explored previously, also has links to the metal detecting press.

Indeed, the terms and conditions of many commercial rally companies now include a monetary value below which artefacts can be sold by the finder, including at auction, without reference to the landowner.

While landowners are generally paid a fee for the use of their fields, and would normally receive half of any treasure award resulting from a treasure find on their land, this practice could see landowners, who in Law are the owners of any non Treasure finds, denied potentially hundreds of pounds from commercial sales which they might never know anything about. Money which would go instead straight to the finder.

It is not known if Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys employ this practice.  

However the current, increasingly uneasy, status quo between archaeologists and metal detectorists may not stand.

As a result increasing number of difficult questions regarding the practices of the organisers of commercial metal detecting rallies and of the impact of those rallies on the archaeological record, with archaeological artefacts effectively becoming a new cash crop harvested by detectorists, the Department of Digital Culture, Media and Sport is widely expected to be planning restrictions on such events.

Many archaeologists and metal detectorists also expect that when the report and recommendations arising from the DCMS consultation regarding possible amendments to the Treasure Act are published new regulations may be placed on the activity of metal detecting itself.

If outside regulation is indeed the result of the DCMS Consultation, many will conclude that the world of metal detecting, and particularly the large commercial rally promoters like Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallies, will have only themselves to blame.

Mr Charles Lloyd and Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallies have been contacted 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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