In December 2020, I published Institute of Detectorists – a cause for concern? The article detailed how the Association of Detectorists (AOD), led by Keith Westcott, is proposing to set up an Institute of Detectorists (IOD). Historic England gave the IOD £50,000 in July 2020 to fund a feasibility study. The National Council for Metal Detecting (NCMD) were invited to participate on the Advisory Board of the IOD, but declined to do so.
I placed several polls in that article to gauge opinions from the detecting community and will provide the results of those in this update. Also in this update are the results of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Historic England. These reveal the hidden agenda and strategy for the IOD. It’s how Keith Westcott plans to seize control of the hobby of metal detecting.
There were some 250 submissions made for the four polls in my first article. Here are the results:
Q1. Should the NCMD participate on the Advisory Board of the IOD?
Q2. Is the AOD a competent body to set up an Institute of Detectorists?
Q3. Could the IOD be used as a vehicle to restrict the hobby of metal detecting?
Q4. Is the IOD a cause for concern for the hobby metal detectorist?
The last three questions provided a clear view on where detectorists stand on the IOD. Given what I have unearthed since then, they were right to be concerned.
Less clear cut, although still 2 to 1 against, was whether the NCMD should participate. I presume those against participation are concerned that the NCMD’s participation could give the IOD undue credibility. They would certainly have been outnumbered by bodies with an archaeological interest.
Historic England frustrate Freedom of Information request
On 2 December 2020, I submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Historic England. FOI requests should be responded to within four weeks, although most responses are quicker than that. Historic England said they would need six weeks to respond. They failed to respond within six weeks. When they eventually responded, it was incomplete and significantly redacted.
I asked Historic England to conduct a formal review of their response. Once again this was returned late and incomplete. I complained to them that their review was incomplete, but they did not respond.
I have, therefore, lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) who oversee FOI requests. Hopefully, this will lead to the release of all the requested information.
Transparency of award of public funds
My FOI request is regarding the issue of £50,000 of taxpayer’s money to the IOD. Among the information that Historic England are currently refusing to release is their internal procedures for processing the award of a grant. They will also not release who authorised the grant. I would expect bodies that give out public money not only to have robust procedures but be keen to demonstrate that they have them.
This lack of transparency contrasts markedly with the publicity they gave to the award of the grant.
IOD’s hidden agenda
Historic England have released some documents and emails. Although these are redacted and incomplete, they do provide a valuable insight into the true agenda of the IOD.
To apply for the grant, the IOD were required to produce a Project Design. Historic England paid Keith Westcott £3,000 to write this.
Project Design – Final Version
The final version of the Project Design is available here: 7851 The Institute of Detectorists. It is written by Keith Westcott and Manda Forster and details the plans for the IOD.
When I read this Project Design it seemed professionally produced and most of what it contained seemed reasonable.
Project Design – Draft Versions
However, there appear to be a number of previous drafts of the Project Design. Historic England have repeatedly refused to release these to me.
These drafts were distributed to various third parties for their comments. It is by reading these comments that it becomes clear what Keith Westcott’s true intentions are and what he really thinks about detectorists.
Below, I have set out some of those comments and alongside, what this tells us. I have used a green background for quotes from third parties and a blue background for those from Keith Westcott.
“I would say that there is an element of regulation and governance that should be recognised by the applicant; NCMD, Code of Practice, Treasure Act 1996, regular reporting by detectorists to PAS” – Heritage Crime, January 2020
Keith has said that detecting is an unregulated hobby. This is one of the main drivers for his perceived need for more regulation.
“Para 1.13 is basically saying that NCMD is not promoting responsible detecting; by funding this project is it been seen as Historic England supporting that view” – ALGAO, January 2020
This demonstrates Keith’s attitude to the NCMD and perhaps validates their decision not to take part.
It is also one of a number of warnings to Historic England about funding the IOD
“With a local authority hat on, we are a very big landowner and all requests to detect on our farm estate are referred to myself; I can see a distinct benefit in having a robust accreditation scheme that I can use as a requirement for issuing consent” – ALGAO, January 2020
This alludes to Keith’s strategy. By going direct to landowners he can implement his proposals, whether detectorists like them or not.
“the NCMD is a different but significant body in the detecting landscape, yet it is not included in the list of stakeholders.” – CIFA, January 2020
Keith does not consider the NCMD, which is the main umbrella group for detectorists, to have any stake in the future regulation of detecting.
“One of my concerns about Keith’s approach is that … he wants to be at the vanguard of this new organisation…this can’t be seen as the Westcott show if detectorists are to embrace the approach” PAS, January 2020
As I’ll show later in this article, Keith has more plans to control detectorists. If the IOD prevails, one man, Keith Westcott will control the hobby of metal detecting.
“I am not sure that I agree with Keith that many detectorists are interested in just the money. For example, I think many people might like to keep what they find but happy to record [with the PAS]” PAS, January 2020
Keith demonstrates his low regard for detectorists. Also, it is a little rich from someone who is happy to take taxpayer’s money, to pursue their interests, to belittle others gaining some money from detecting.
“I am not sure that I completely understand this, as I am not sure there is ever much contextual information lost given most detecting takes place in the plough-zone” PAS, January 2020
There is a common, and in my view erroneous, argument from archaeologists that so much contextual information is lost, when objects are recovered from the plough-zone. It is one of the main arguments being pursued by Keith and the archaeologists that support him for the need for the IOD
“I think detectorists are more likely to oppose the IOD, as I am sure it will be seen as giving up on many of the liberties inherent within a liberal approach to metal-detecting” – PAS, January 2020
An acknowledgement that detectorists will be giving up the liberties that they currently enjoy, if the IOD is allowed to proceed.
“Within the list of ambassadors are some people who organise rallies etc” – PAS, January 2020
This chimes with a comment posted on my first article. Be careful who you listen to about the IOD. Some are seeing this as a money-making opportunity – your money. The list of ambassadors is available below.
“The risk of the detectorist community not accepting the Institute. I think this is very high” – National Trust, January 2020
A comment from many third parties.
“Can’t help thinking when reading that this reads like a faction splitting off the NCMD and we are being asked to take sides in a domestic dispute.” – National Trust, January 2020
A dispute where one sides gets public funds to pursue its aims and the other side is represented by a voluntary organisation.
“please reword to ensure it is clear that the project is not proposing a framework for new regulation” – Historic England, January 20220
It demonstrates Keith’s hidden agenda. He intends new regulation but needs to remove it for now to secure funding.
“My key concerns are the business case, which effectively asserts that all MD is illegal” – Historic England, January 2020
This again demonstrates what Keith thinks about detectorists in general
“A number of commentators [said] that this initiative comes from a relatively narrow constituency”, “most of their comments really seemed to me to be querying the broad issue of metal detecting and HE’s relationship to it – and whether HE should fund this at all” – Historic England, January 2020
Even though Historic England are repeatedly warned that the IOD is supported by a narrow sector and that there is a high risk of detectorists not accepting it, they still decide to grant £50,000 of taxpayer’s money to Keith.
It is clear from these comments that significant changes were made to the Project Design. It appears that this was only done to enable funding to be secured.
Absence of comments from the Detecting Community
In the information released to me by Historic England, it appears that there have been no comments sought from or obtained from the detecting community.
What is the £50,000 being spent on?
It is clearly of significant public interest how £50,000 of taxpayer money will be spent. Historic England have redacted the finance section of the Project Design, claiming it is commercially sensitive.
“Indeed at a higher rate than her CEO is charged out to other current HE projects – great though I think [redacted] is, does this feel rather high? – relayed by Drakon Heritage, 30 Janaury 2020
It would appear that a lot of the money is going to the two authors. Another email reveals that Keith charged £300 per day to write the Project Design. It is reasonable to assume that he is charging at least that now. It would appear that Manda Foster, his co-author, is charging more than that.
A number of detecting publications, rally organisers and equipment suppliers were either ambassadors to the IOD or sat on the advisory board of the AOD. Several of these have now publicly distanced themselves from the IOD and AOD. In particular, I have been informed that The Searcher and its editor now has nothing to do with the IOD, and have made a public statement to that effect.
Other emails either from Keith or third parties to Historic England provide further evidence of Keith’s agenda and strategy.
Ignore the detecting community and go direct to landowners
“Ultimately, we will look for the support of landowners to adopt the stance of archaeologists in requiring detectorists to follow a new ‘code of conduct’ before being allowed on their lands. The code will be more aligned to Historic England’s ‘Our portable past’ than the current ‘light touch’ code of practice and resulting in a form of regulation” – Keith Westcott, 21 September 2018
Although a number of parties have highlighted to Keith that the risk of the detecting community not accepting the IOD is high, this is of no real concern to him. His strategy is to target the landowners. If you have read my first article, you will recall that Historic England was indirectly using the access to agricultural grants to unilaterally impose regulation on detecting.
Detectorists shouldn’t own their finds
“The perceived ownership of finds and the rights of the finder is of great concern. As we know, unlike archaeologists, detectorists in protecting their ‘current freedoms’, usually results in the find being kept for personal gain. IOD looks to develop a different and more ethical approach to finds ownership, based on a custodianship.” – Keith Westcott, 2 October 2018
Keith reveals his thinking that finds shouldn’t belong to the detectorist. Instead, his idea is for a National Collection.
“What is more problematic, and is not fully defined, is the National Collection idea. Are they really saying they would become the repository for artefacts?” – National Trust, 24 October 2018
Funding avoids the need for consensus
“Crucially, funding would allow us to promote an ethical approach rather than the popular approach. For example, the PAS scheme relies on treading a careful path which cannot be seen to change existing freedoms or derogate existing practices, this would result in a backlash, alienating the scheme from the majority.” – Keith Westcott, 2 October 2018
Keith needs funding so that he does not need to seek consensus for his proposals. It allows him to proceed without needing to get the support of the detecting community.
Regulation to suit archaeologists rather than detectorists
“our hands are not tied as per the PAS, allowing the proposed Institute to develop standards and practices that conform to archaeologist requirements rather than a diluted message to suit the detectorists.” – Keith Westcott, 2 October 2018
The envisaged regulation is not seeking a middle ground, to the benefit of all. Rather it will be framed solely to needs of archaeologists.
The use of the phrase ‘the detectorists’ highlights that Keith sees this as an “us” and “them” situation and it is clear which side he is on.
Appearing to be a detectorist
“I realise that Mr Westcott wants the IOD to be set up by detectorist…so to reduce the resistance probable if archaeologists are seen to be behind the idea.” – National Trust, 24 October 2018
As shown above, Keith’s allegiances are with archaeology. However, Keith wants to give the appearance of being a detectorist.
No Passport – No Detecting!
“I have been in contact with of the DCMS, in view of presenting a range of initiatives …One proposal is a possible IoD ‘Detectorists Passport’ gained on joining the Institute, which would be a voluntary form of Licence. I have discussed the idea with the National Farmers Union, as it would provide a great opportunity to influence the practices of detectorists from within the interest and through the targeted support of farmers and landowners. …. This empowers the landowners who are often approached by anonymous members of the public…No Passport, no detecting! – Keith Westcott, 11 February 2019.
Preliminary thoughts on costings, are based on the fundamental principle of assisted funding for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, from within the interest. For a monthly subscription ” Keith Westcott, 11 February 2019.
The grand plan is revealed; how you will have to pay a monthly subscription to Keith to go detecting as you will need a IOD “Detectorists Passport”.
Keith is keen to appear to be a detectorist, who is on the side of detectorists in general. However, his comments indicate the disdain in which he holds the detecting community, the NCMD and even the PAS system. His strategy is not to engage with detectorists. Instead, he will circumvent them by going to the land owners. Also, he doesn’t need the support of the detecting community, as Historic England will provide him with funding. Under his vision for detecting, you will pay him for the privilege of going out detecting, via his Passport scheme. And what you find will become part of his National Collection.
What to do about it
If you are concerned about the IOD and you are not already a member of the NCMD then consider joining them at www.ncmd.co.uk.
I am aware that threats of violence have been posted online and sent to Keith Westcott and other parties associated with the IOD and AOD. Criticism is fine but threats are quite clearly not.