Father and son Indiana Jones Team’ cleared of illegal treasure hunting in Essex

A FATHER and son team of treasure hunters, branded as the Essex Indiana Jones team who were accused of illegally removing 3000 year old artefacts from an Uttlesford estate while acting as metal detecting nighthawks , were today cleared. They were found

A FATHER and son team of treasure hunters, branded as the Essex 'Indiana Jones team' who were accused of illegally removing 3000 year old artefacts from an Uttlesford estate while acting as metal detecting "nighthawks", were today cleared.

They were found not guilty in a Crown Court test case prosecution which has been closely watched by treasure hunters throughout the country.

Today's verdict has implications for all who head out to the countryside with metal detectors in search of treasure.

Bronze Age axe heads, spearheads and a chisel were found when the two men caught while operating at about 5am in the "dark and rain," on land belonging to Lord Braybrooke without permission, Ipswich Crown Court was told.

Paul Hitchens, 57, of Hutton, Brentwood and son Paul Anthony Hitchens, 35, of High Cross Lane, Little Canfield, Dunmow had denied theft of Bronze Age artefacts belonging to the Crown and had told the court they had intended to report the finds officially but had been stopped by police before they had an opportunity to do so.

After the jury's verdict Recorder Richard Sutton QC warned Hitchen's junior to take more care in future and warned him that if he "happened to do it again" he would be brought back to court for another trial urging him to get permission in future.

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Mr Hitchen's junior later said outside court : "It's horrible to be accused of something you haven't done but it is my passion to discover history and share it with others."

He had told the court that he had intended to inform the farmer the "very rare hoard" but said it was too early in the day and that then a police officer had turned up and taken the finds away in a carrier bag. The items were thought to have been worth around �2000.

The Indian Jones tag was given to the Hitchens during the hearing by Jason Sugarman, counsel for Mr Hitchens junior.

Prosecutor Richard Wood had told the court that the two defendants were found at about 5.15am about a mile from the village of Littlebury - it was dark and raining - when a police officer "by chance" noticed them.

"They accepted they had been metal detecting and accepted they didn't have permission from the landowner. Searching their vehicle, the police officer found a number of Bronze Age artefacts", he said.

Mr Wood had insisted the two men were "caught in the act of stealing although they said they were going to hand them over to the proper authorities".

He added: "The Crown says they were going to keep them for themselves."

He had told the court that a process existed, he said whereby treasure hunters such as the Hitchens report discoveries to the Coroner to decide whether they are "treasure" and for which a reward can be applied.

However, he added, there is the problem of "nighthawking" where people "go out in the middle of the night using metal detectors intending to keep what they find". The Crown says they were doing that.

"It was a remote, rural area, 5.30am, dark, raining - they didn't have permission to be there and they didn't volunteer the items were in the car. They gave inconsistent accounts.

"It was not any old field - in the recent past archaeological teams made significant discoveries of Bronze Age items."

Rewards would, however, be only available to people who were genuine metal detectors and although worth only �2000 "the value of these items goes beyond that".

"Its an important case against Nighthawkers who behave in this way - depriving the nation of classical heritage and finding out how we lived 2000 to 3000 years ago. It's not a bog standard case.