“Delays placing heritage at risk” – my reply

On 29 April a news article was put up on the BBC website, the header to which read: “Delays placing heritage at risk, metal detectorist warns.” It claimed delays in the treasure process would lead to detectorists selling treasure finds on the black market instead of reporting them. I felt it important to provide a response; to explain the treasure process, the cause of delays and why you should continue to report treasure finds.

BBC article

During an interview the detectorist, Peter Beasley, claimed it was taking years for discoveries to be processed and as a result some people had stopped handing their finds to the authorities. Mr Beasley said he had handed in a find two years since and it has yet to be returned. In his opinion the processing of a find should take weeks rather than two or three years. He warned that unless the system was “fixed” the handing over of finds would stop and instead they would be sold on the black market.

A spokesperson at the British Museum said that some treasure cases had taken longer to process due to Covid. Mr Beasley’s find, a gold ring, had turned out not to be straightforward. It was initially thought to date from the Viking Age but someone had noticed it could be Roman. Therefore, it had needed to be examined again.

You can read the BBC article at Delays placing heritage at risk, metal detectorist warns

My treasure find

In February of 2020 I reported a find that dated from the Anglo-Saxon period. It was handed over to a Finds Liaison Officer, who took it to the British Museum. A museum or museums would then be contacted to see if they wished to acquire my find. One did express an interest, so the next stage was to officially declare my find to be treasure. After a report for H M Coroner was compiled an inquest was held and my find was declared to be Treasure.

Under normal circumstances the museum that wished to acquire my find would then have three to four months to raise the funds to pay for it. However, Covid slowed down each stage and the museum that wished to acquire my find was closed until very recently. Whilst I am still waiting for my share of the valuation figure on my find (a relatively small amount), I fully understand why the Treasure process took longer than usual and why I still have not received payment. It is not wholly down to Covid but Covid is responsible for the greater part of the delay.

Treasure process

Treasure finds make up a small proportion of the finds that are reported each and every year. Some finds that are thought to be Treasure turn out not to be. Of those that do count as Treasure not all are acquired by museums; if none express an interest then the find in question will be disclaimed. If a museum does want to acquire a find then it has to go through the whole Treasure process. Should the British Museum want to add a find to its collection then the DCMS handles the case.

Delays to the Treasure process

What, besides Covid, can hold up this process?

First, a find might take some time to be delivered to the British Museum.

Second, the find has to be examined. Even a single item might have to be examined by more than one department and/or member of staff.

Third, a report is then compiled for an inquest to be held. Compiling the report can be a relatively simple or a very complicated process.

Fourth, it might be some time before an inquest is actually held.

Fifth, a provisional valuation is then required before the find can go before the Treasure Valuation Committee. Leading on from this, a provisional valuation is commissioned from the panel of advisors. If it is a large or very valuable find then more than one provisional valuation will be required.

Sixth, the find will then go before the Treasure Valuation Committee, which has a number of options. It might agree with the provisional valuation figure, or raise it, or lower it, or commission another valuation. There can be a holdup for one reason or another at each of the above six stages. And, there will always be some cases that take longer to process than others.

Treasure process team

The Senior Treasure Registrar heads up the department and he has a number of assistants. I am lucky enough to know most of the Treasure team and can say they all put in a great amount of effort to ensure everything runs smoothly and at the optimum speed. The government’s furlough scheme, set up in 2020, led to delays in processing cases but as soon as the Treasure team members were allowed to start work again they did their best to reduce the backlog that had built up. One thing that assisted them was the commissioning of provisional valuations from photographs rather than on sight of the actual finds. This was mostly for low value items and was only done with the permission of finders. To say it is taking years for discoveries to be processed is an insult to the Treasure team, each member of which is conscientious and committed to providing a good service.

Reporting Treasure finds

Lack of evidence of non reporting of Treasure

Returning to article on the BBC website, in which it was said that delays in deciding the fate of rare finds have led to a black market in our heritage. It also said that some people had stopped handing in their finds to the authorities. Where is the evidence for this? I’ve heard of isolated cases of dishonesty but they are very few and far between. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that Mr Beasley’s opinion would be shared by the vast majority of detecting enthusiasts.

Reasons to report treasure

The Treasure Act 1996 requires finders to report Treasure finds within 14 days to the coroner. This is easiest done by reporting it to your FLO. The penalties for failing to do so include imprisonment and you will have a criminal record. If the find is declared Treasure then the Treasure Act allows for a reward of its market value. If you were to sell the item on the black market, it is unlikely that you would get its open market value. If you have tried to conceal the discovery of the Treasure find then this reward could be reduced or withheld altogether.

Conclusion

The vast majority of detectorists are reporting Treasure finds. The Treasure process necessarily involves a number of steps and people, all of whom, in my experience, are conscientious in their work. Apart from the moral duty to record our heritage, you really would need to quite stupid to take the risk not to report a Treasure find.

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