A group of "nighthawker" metal detectorists have been banned from historic sites after stealing ancient artefacts in a hunt for Richard II's buried royal treasure.
The men admitted pilfering bronze axe heads and old coins from Beeston Castle in Cheshire and the Grade II-listed Roche Abbey in Yorkshire.
A legend says Richard II buried royal treasure in the grounds of Beeston Castle while Roche Abbey is home to the remains of a 12th Century monastery.
Chester Magistrates Court heard English Heritage and police discovered the crime after the grounds at both sites were found littered with holes in December 2019, the Mail Online reports.
Analysis of a suspect's mobile uncovered a five-strong nighthawking WhatsApp group, as well as details of their haul.
Mark Harrison, head of Heritage Crime Strategy for Historic England, said: "A decade ago we didn't have the techniques necessary to investigate this criminal behaviour.
"We have now developed the expertise, capability and partnerships to identify and prosecute the small criminal minority of nighthawks.
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"The overwhelming majority of metal detectorists comply with the legislation and codes of practice.
"When thieves steal artefacts from a protected archaeological site, they are stealing from all of us and damaging something often irreplaceable."
English Heritage properties curator Win Scutt said: "Illegal metal detecting robs us of our past.
"The ground beneath us is a wonderful library of our past. Metal detectorists cut through these unread pages destroying all the information forever just to tear out a precious trinket usually lost in a private collection."
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They added: "The damage incidents like these cause can never be repaired and the chance to learn about these important sites is lost forever."
The five were handed a five-year CBO banning them from metal detecting at any English Heritage site – a first for Cheshire and the North West last Friday.
Gary Flanagan, 33, and John Lorne, 29, admitted taking coins and artefacts from Beeston Castle and Roche Abbey in December 2019.
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Flanagan, of Audenshaw, Greater Manchester, was handed £1,100 in fines and costs while Lorne, of Droylsden, Greater Manchester, must pay £1,760.
Daniel Lloyd, 33, and James Ward, 32, both of Droylsden, admitted taking bronze age axe head's and coins from Beeston Castle in December 2019.
Lloyd was ordered to pay £600 while Ward – who also admitted producing a small quantity of cannabis – was ordered to pay £1,430.
Curtis Barlow, 32, of Droylsden, admitted taking coins and artefacts from Roche Abbey in December 2019 and ordered to pay £572.
All five were each ordered to pay an £85 victims surcharge and must forfeit their metal detectors, worth an estimated value of £1,000.
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PC Ashley Tether, of Cheshire Police's Rural Crime Team, warned: "The impact on the historic ground they have damaged should not be underestimated.
"Their WhatsApp group clearly showed what they were up to.
"What followed was a number of months of carefully identifying and cataloguing the historic artefacts they had taken with the help of Historic England experts."
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