Metal detectorists are caught red-handed plundering a Roman villa

Metal detectorists are caught red-handed plundering a Roman villa after four are arrested with one carrying eight historic coins in his pocket

  • Police had received reports of holes dug at the site of two ancient earth forts 

Four metal detectorists were caught red-handed at night plundering treasure from a Roman monument.

The men were spotted after police received reports of holes dug at the site of two ancient earth forts and a settlement, a court heard.

An officer visited the area a week later with a thermal imaging camera and saw the gang scanning the area for valuable artefacts.

Aaron Williams, 25, was quickly arrested with his metal detector and spade and found to have eight Roman coins in his pocket.

Three other men – Bradley Ling, 24, Kyle Mickleburgh, 25, and Michael Travell, 37, tried to hide in nearby woodland but were apprehended as they made their way to Williams’ car on a track next to a main road.

Metal detectorists Aaron Williams (left) and Michael Travell (right) arriving at Suffolk magistrates court in Ipswich to be sentenced with three others for treasure hunting at night on a scheduled Roman monument 

Prosecutor Katherine Emms told magistrates the coins from Baylham Roman Site, near Needham Market, Suffolk, were ‘extremely dirty, giving the impression that they had only just been dug up’. No value was given.

Mobile phones belonging to Williams and Mickleburgh showed they had exchanged a photo of an ‘extremely rare’ gold ring worth up to £50,000 which had never been recovered, although it was not part of the case against them.

Travell, of Norwich, told police officers during an interview: ‘How can you say it’s stolen when nobody owns it? It was left by the Romans.’

The other three gave no comment interviews about the incident on October 12 last year.

Julie Adams, mitigating for poultry worker Williams, of Hingham, Norfolk, chef and father-of-eight Ling, who lives in nearby Surlingham, and roofing contractor Mickleburgh, a father-of-five from Norwich, told Suffolk magistrates court the men were not experienced detectorists, although Williams had a ‘genuine interest’ and was a member of some Facebook groups.

She added: ‘They knew what they were doing was not lawful but they didn’t fully understand the seriousness and panicked when they saw police.’

Lisa Robinson, in mitigation for unemployed Travell, said he bought his metal detector the day before on Facebook Market.

Metal detectorists Kyle Mickleburg (left) and Bradley Ling (right) arriving at Suffolk magistrates court in Ipswich

‘He is not an educated man and struggles with reading and writing. He was not aware that it was a scheduled site of historic significance,’ she added.

The Baylham site, which was scheduled in 1957, was situated at the point where five Roman roads met.

Anna Booth, a finds recording officer for Suffolk county Council archaeology services, said one fort dated from the Roman invasion in 43AD and the other from the time of Boudicea’s revolt 60-61AD.

Five of the coins found on Williams were from the 4th century AD while the other three dated back to as early as 275AD.

The men admitted going to a scheduled monument for equipped for theft and were each given a 16-week jail sentence, suspended for 18 months.

They were also tagged for 90-days with a GPS tracker to monitor their movements, ordered to pay compensation to Historic England and costs totalling almost £400.

Presiding magistrate Cynthia Glinos ordered the forfeiture of the seized Roman coins and the destruction of the gang’s metal detectors and spades.

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