A diver from Kent has been jailed for two years for taking a haul of historic canons from a sunken warship.
Vincent Woolsgrove, from Ramsgate, said he'd recovered the artefacts in international waters. But a two year investigation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency found that they were from HMS London, which went down, with all hands, near Southend Pier.
Woolsgrove, a commercial diver, had already pleaded guilty to a charge of fraud. At court today, he was also order to pay £35,000 in court costs.
He had reported finding five cannons during the summer of 2007; two from the wreck of the warship “London” and three in international waters off the coast of Kent. The cannons recovered from the warship “London” were both very rare bronze “Peter Gill” and commonwealth cannons.
The “London” was a second rate warship built in Chatham dockyard in 1654 and became part of Charles II ‘restoration navy’. In 1665 the “London” blew up accidentally off Southend when a powder magazine exploded.
The three that he had reported finding off North Foreland, were 24lb bronze cannons originally from the City of Amsterdam.
The cannons were part of a battery of 36 cannons produced in Amsterdam to protect the city in the early part of the 16th century, and were assigned to Dutch ships during the first Anglo Dutch war.
Mr Woolsgrove was subsequently awarded the title of three Dutch cannons, as the MCA were unable to prove at that time that the cannons were property of the Crown.
The Dutch cannons were then sold at auction to an American buyer for a sum in excess of £50,000 and are now resident in a private collection in Florida.
In 2011 a joint operation was undertaken by the MCA, Kent & Essex Police & Historic England (formerly English Heritage),after fresh information was received regarding heritage crime in the Kent & Essex force area involving divers stealing cultural objects of great historic value from wrecks off the coast.
A search warrant was obtained and Mr Woolsgrove’s house in Ramsgate was searched. In his garden the MCA found a bronze 16 century Zeirikzee cannon in a desalinisation tank along with a considerable amount of other wreck items including copper, lead, tin and glass ingots and ship bells.
Mr Woolsgrove was then interviewed and disclosed that he had a further two unreported bronze armada cannons stored at his girlfriend’s house. When he was questioned regarding the previous Dutch cannons he stated that they were recovered from North Foreland but were towed to the Thames Estuary. During the investigation photographs were found on his computer showing the cannons being recovered off Southend.
Extensive research was then untaken by the MCA, Charles Trollope, a world authority on muzzle loading cannons, Frank Fox, an American Author of 16th-17th British Naval History and the Dutch heritage authorities.
From the research it was proven that the three Dutch cannons had been issued to Dutch vessels, "Groote Liefde" and "St. Mattheus" to attack the English fleet during the first Anglo-Dutch War in 1653. The vessels were then captured by the English and the cannons taken as prizes. These cannons were subsequently placed on board the warship “London” until its fatefully day in 1665 when it blew up with the loss of over 200 souls.
This evidence disproved Mr Woolsgrove’s claim that he had found the cannons outside territorial waters and they were in fact property of the Crown. If he had reported them correctly he would have been entitled to a substantial salvage award.