Men jailed for looting Royal Navy shipwreck off Kent

Nigel Ingram (left) and John Blight (right) have been jailed Credit: Kent Police

Two men who illegally took protected historical artefacts from a shipwreck in the Dover Strait, off the coast of Kent have been jailed.

The sentences come three years after Kent Police was notified that a number of items had been reported missing from the wreck of the HMS Hermes which was sunk by a German submarine in 1914. Officers were given the names of two men believed to be responsible.

The men were Nigel Ingram, 57, from London Road in Teynham, Kent - and John Blight, 58, from Old River Way in Winchelsea, East Sussex.

During a two-week trial at Canterbury Crown Court the jury heard that the two men had been found at the wreck site by French maritime surveillance officers on Tuesday 30th September 2014. Ingram was in the water having dived from Blight's boat, De Bounty. While the officers did not identify any offences at the time, they were suspicious of the lifting equipment which was found on the boat - and they carried out an underwater exploration of the HMS Hermes three days later.

The search revealed that the ship's condenser had been removed and that some of the equipment they had seen on De Bounty had been left behind in the area.

The French authorities launched a criminal investigation which they later referred to Kent Police. Ingram and Blight were arrested on Monday 19th October 2015.

Today Ingram was jailed for four years, while Blight was sentenced to three-and-a-half years for failing to disclose recovered items in order to make a financial gain.

During their investigation police recovered more than one hundred items of unreported wreck at Ingram's home in Kent and about £16,000 in cash. They also found photographs on his computer - one was of the missing condenser - the photograph had been taken four hours after the French surveillance officers had boarded De Bounty.

Officers also found out that Ingram had cashed a cheque for £5,029 from a scrap merchant the day after De Bounty had been boarded by French surveillance officers. Evidence found at the property also included a notebook, with the title 'De Bounty. Diver Recovery'. The book contained details of what dives were carried out, and the items recovered including the condenser. It is estimated that the total value of the items the men collected was more than £150,000.

De Bounty - Blight's ship Credit: Kent Police

The items should have been reported to the Receiver of Wreck (RoW) - who deals with cases of voluntary salvage wreck material in thE UK, but none of the salvaged artefacts on the list had been reported to researchers.

The RoW team researches the ownership of wreck material and works with the finders and owners, as well as other interested parties including archaeologists and museums.

The HMS Hermes was a protected cruiser built in the 19th century. It was converted into an aircraft ferry and depot ship ready for the start of the First World War. Forty-four British people died when it was sunk by a German submarine in October 1914.

The Investigating officer PC Anne Aylett, from Kent Police, issued a statement explaining how important it was to protect historical artefacts left on shipwrecks.

Artefact from the HMS Hermes