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[Lead Image: thePipeLine]

Following our earlier investigation into claims that leading commercial metal detecting rally organiser Charles Lloyd had misrepresented the words of the Finds Liaison Officer for Shropshire, thePipeLine has discovered that a second rally organiser may have similarly misrepresented the views of an officer of the Portable Antiquities Scheme on social media. In the latest case, rally organiser Mr Jason Massey, of the community interest company Detecting for Veterans, claimed on Facebook that the Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, Professor Michael Lewis, had told him during a meeting that such organised events “do a lot for the hobby” of metal detecting. Professor Lewis told thePipeLine he had said no such thing and, in fact, believes unregulated commercial metal detecting rallies are damaging to archaeology and should face controls.

Formed in 2017 by Mr Massey, Detecting for Veterans was registered as a Community Interest Company on 1 May 2020, soon after the start of the first UK lockdown, at a time when a number of metal detecting rally companies were registered, possibly in the hope of using business exemptions from lockdown regulations, although there is no evidence this was Mr Massey’s motive.

CIC’s themselves are a class of company which are required to offer community benefit rather than benefit shareholders. They are also allowed to operate commercially and make payments to shareholders within set limits.

In the case of Detecting for Veterans the benefit claimed is primarily support for veterans of the armed forces, particularly those who suffer from social isolation and mental health issues.

The company states on its website that,

“The group has raised thousands of pounds for talking2minds (a Veterans mental health charity) and The Veterans Charity (designed to offer rapid assistance to Veterans in need).

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We attend regular metal detecting rallies all over the United Kingdom and virtually every penny goes towards supporting our chosen charities.”

At a weekend rally held by Detecting for Veterans at Ancaster in September 2020 the raffle alone is said to have raised some £3000 and the company’s registration documents refer to Detecting for Veterans raising £12,000 between 2017 and April 2020. However, as it is in its first year of operation, to date the company has not published any detailed accounts.

Neither is it is known how many of the claimed five thousand members of the company Facebook group, or people attending Detecting for Veterans events, are actually armed forces veterans and how many are supporters taking advantage of the metal detecting permissions the company has negotiated, including a two hundred and fifty acre farm in Somerset.

As the company also says,

“…we have a great many members who have never served but who want to support these worthwhile charities.”

The company also states that it is “aligned” with the National Council for Metal Detecting and the Portable Antiquities Scheme to ensure all its members adhere to official and legal guidelines when attending the company’s rallies.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme [PAS], which is headed by Professor Lewis, records and publishes on its website, finds declared voluntarily by metal detectorists and members of the public and it was to find out more about the work of Detecting for Veterans that Professor Lewis states as the reason for his taking the meeting with Mr Massey.

The first the outside world knew of the meeting was a Facebook post two weeks after it took place, with the news coming as part of a thread which included trenchant criticism of metal detecting rallies of the kind which Detecting for Veterans organises.

In one case it was alleged that,

“Organised group digs are the equivalent of a trawler boat.
They bleed the ground dry whilst fleecing everyone involved in order to make money.”

Another contributor claimed that,

“I got a local club on one of my [individual] permissions and they are raping it.”

It is a common complaint that the offer of hard cash to farmers by rally organisers, in return for exclusive access, has led to the loss of permissions to detect in the traditional way where access was negotiated by small local clubs, or even individual detectorists.

On current information, Detecting for Veterans has not been criticised in those terms. However, the company would almost certainly suffer by association with such practices and it is likely the fear of this effect which prompted Mr Massey to respond to the criticism in the thread, defending the principle of rallies by telling another participant, who had also been critical of rallies,

“…I think you need to do some homework. I had a 2 hr zoom meeting with the head of PAS 2 weeks ago and he says that proper organise events do a lot for the hobby and we don’t just move on we do go back to the same place we do record our finds we inform the local FLO…”

The Facebook Post by Jason Massey quoting comments allegedly made by Professor Michael Lewis of the PAS.
[via Facebook: Fair use for the purpose of reporting news]

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The suggestion that Professor Lewis had told Mr Massey organised rallies “did a lot for the hobby”, did not seem to chime with either comments previously recorded by Professor Lewis, or with the stance of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as a whole. The PAS has stopped offering support to advice to rallies and states on its website that,

“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.”

Therefore, thePipeLine approached Professor Lewis via the British Museum press office to ask about what was actually said at the meeting.

Professor Lewis confirmed that the meeting with Mr Massey had taken place, telling thePipeLine,

“Yes, I met (alone) with Jason Massey on 24 May to learn more about Detecting for Veterans.” 

However, regarding the contentious claim that he had told Mr Massey that “properly organise[d] events do a lot for the hobby” [of metal detecting] as Mr Massey reported, Professor Lewis told thePipeLine that, while he did think that metal detecting can make a positive contribution to our understanding of the past if undertaken responsibly, he finds it hard to see how that can take place in the context of a rally.

He added,

“Mr Massey and I did discuss ways in which rallies could better follow best practice and how that might be possible. This could include them paying for an archaeologist to record finds (at least make a skeleton record) and encourage other aspects of best practice.”

In an article in the January 2021 edition of British Archaeology, Professor Lewis and co-author Dr Mike Heyworth, the former director of the Council for British Archaeology and chair of the Portable Antiquities Scheme Advisory Group, went further, stating their belief that metal detecting rallies should be regulated.

This could be accomplished within current practice by rally promoters being required to apply for a Temporary Events Notice [TEN] from the local authority, in the same way as the promoter of similar mass participation leisure industry events such as, for example, music festivals.

Such a system could also enable interested parties, such as the local authority, the Portable Antiquities Scheme, or Historic England, to object to a metal detecting rally at a particular location on heritage grounds, or to insist on specific conditions such as the compulsory recording of all finds and the excavation of any hoard located during a rally by a properly qualified archaeologist, rather than the unstructured and unrecorded chase for objects, or even free for all which has been reported at various discoveries in the recent past including the famous Staffordshire Hoard.

Critically, as far as Mr Massey is concerned, such regulation would include rallies for charitable causes such as those operated by Detecting for Veterans, in the same way that a music festival raising money for charity also has to licenced. For example, in recent years the famous Glastonbury Festival has raised money for Oxfam, Water Aid and other good causes, yet still has to take account of planning regulations and obtain appropriate licences and permissions. 

Asked by thePipeLine if he thought such regulation of rallies was needed Professor Lewis confirmed that he did, stating,

“Yes, I believe regulation is needed to reduce the impact of commercial rallies on archaeology.”

In the end, while there is no evidence Mr Massey deliberately set out to misrepresent the views of Professor Lewis, he may simply have reported mistakenly what he believed or wanted Professor Lewis to have said during a two hour meeting, while leaving out the awkward parts, such as the suggestion rally organisers pay for archaeological support, the controversy comes at a particularly sensitive time in the relationship between the hobby of metal detecting and professional and academic archaeology.

The issue of regulating rallies is expected to be addressed in the Government’s legislative response to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s consultation on amendments to the Treasure Act 1996, and, thanks to an apparent increase in illegal metal detecting, as well as a widely recognised lack of recording at rallies and the high profile sale of artefacts to private collectors at auction by metal detectorists, opinion against unregulated metal detecting appears to have hardened among many archaeologists.

It is also pointed out that the position of metal detecting is anomalous in that, whereas the underlying principle of current environmental legislation in the UK is that the polluter pays for mitigation, the position of metal detecting is the reverse. In effect the tax payer subsidises the hobby of metal detecting through the provision of the Portable Antiquities Scheme which mitigates damage to knowledge by recording finds which might otherwise be lost to the historical record, and in particular, through awards under the Treasure Act which go entirely to the finder and the landowner, who do not even have to pay for the conservation and reporting of treasure finds in the way that any archaeological company finding such material would be obliged to.

As a result many metal detectorists, especially rally organisers like Mr Massey, fear the current light touch regime may give way soon to something which will be either much more expensive and onerous for them to follow, or which may licence, or even ban, their activity altogether.

thePipeLine has approached Mr Massey for comment.

We also approached the leading representative body for metal detectorists, the National Council for Metal Detecting for comment about the comments made by Professor Lewis, asking the NCMD, if the NCMD is concerned that a leading organiser of metal detecting rallies appears to have misrepresented the views of the Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and what is the NCMD’s response to Professor Lewis’s comment that unregulated commercial rallies are damaging to archaeology and should be regulated?

Neither Mr Massey , nor the NCMD had responded to our requests by the time of publication.

Cards on the Table: This article was amended by thePipeLine at 22.37 0n 4 July 2021 to make it clear there is no evidence that Detecting for Veterans was registered as a CIC in an attempt to avoid Covid Lockdown measures.

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

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