Collectors guilty of illegal plot to sell historic Anglo-Saxon coins abroad

Two men have been found guilty of conspiring to sell criminal property after being caught in possession of rare ninth century Anglo-Saxon coins by an undercover police sting.

Craig Best, 46, from Bishop Auckland and Roger Pilling, 75, from Loveclough, Lancashire, were both accused of conspiracy to convert criminal property - namely coins, which were produced between 874 and 879 AD and buried by a Viking during a politically turbulent and violent time in England. 

The pair failed to declare the coins as Treasure or hand them over to the Crown.

They had denied the charges but were found guilty by a jury at Durham Crown Court.

They were also found guilty of separate charges of possessing the criminal property, which prosecutors said was worth a total of £766,000.

The 44 coin collection recovered by Durham Police included two rare coins, which experts said helped to re-write the history of the formation of the kingdom of England.

Detective Superintendent Lee Gosling told ITV News Tyne Tees: "It is astonishing that the history books need re-writing because of this find. These coins come from a hoard of immense historical significance relating to the Vikings and we are delighted that they are now with the British Museum."

A coin found at the home of Roger Pilling. Craig Best and Roger Pilling have been found guilty of conspiring to sell criminal property. Credit: Durham Police

Undercover Sting

During the trial, the jury heard how Craig Best had set up a meeting with an expert at a Durham hotel in May 2019 in order to verify and confirm the coins he possessed were genuine.

The prosecution said Best and Pilling had planned to sell the coins to a buyer in America, but as Best pulled out three of the coins to show the expert, who was actually an undercover officer, he was arrested on the spot and the coins were seized.

The court heard, later that day, Pilling was also arrested at his home, where officers located and seized a further 41 rare coins.

The coins are thought to have originated from a find worth millions, known as the Herefordshire Hoard. The two metal detectorists, George Powell and Layton Davies. who made that find in Leominster, also failed to declare them as "treasure" and sold them illegally to dealers.

What is treasure?

  • One of at least two coins in the same find which are at least 300 years old at that time and contains at least 10 per cent precious metal.


  • When found is one of at least ten coins in the same find which are at least 300 years old at that time are deemed ‘treasure’ and must be reported to the authorities.

Examples of the coins seized by Durham Police as part of the investigation. Credit: Durham Police

Alfred the Great v Ceolwulf II of Mercia

The coins have been sent to the British Museum and its curator of Early Medieval Coins and Viking Collections, Dr Gareth Williams, told ITV News the find allows historians to "rewrite" English history.

He said: "An alliance is shown through the coins between Alfred the Great of Wessex, probably the best known Anglo-Saxon king, and a much less well known contemporary of his, Ceolwulf II of Mercia.

"Now, the official history that’s come down to us suggests that Ceolwulf was a nobody, he’s a 'puppet' of the Vikings, but that’s history as it was re-written at Alfred’s court a few years later, when Ceolwulf had mysteriously disappeared off the scene."

He said the hoard is thought to have been buried around the time Alfred the Great was fighting the Vikings, which ultimately led to the creation of a unified kingdom of England.

However, he said the coins recovered suggest the established picture of Alfred the Great, as the hero who saved England from the Vikings, is only part of the story and that Ceolwulf II may have been more influential than first thought.

A rare Two Emperor coin - one of the items seized by Durham Police as part of their investigation. Credit: Durham Police

Dr Williams pointed out that the rare Two Emperor type coins, which were seized by police, shed new light onto a significant political and economic alliance between the two kings for a number of years.

He said: "The hoard contains coins of two types, one of which is a previously exceptionally rare type known as the Two Emperors type, showing two emperors seated side by side, with a winged figure of victory above and this has been deliberately chosen to symbolise the alliance between Alfred and Ceolwulf."

Police understand there are still around 200 coins from the Herefordshire Hoard still in circulation and investigations nationally are ongoing to locate them.

Craig Best and Roger Pilling will be sentenced on 4 May.

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