4. Conclusions and Thoughts for the Future

It would be naïve to suggest that nighthawking, like any other form of criminal behaviour, may one day be completely eradicated. There will always be those who are willing to use a metal detector to loot archaeological sites, just as there will always be people willing to commit burglary and other forms of crime. Equally, there may be those who will think what follows is similarly na├»ve, but it appears to the authors that we may be at a tipping point with respect to illicit detecting.

Our belief is that if it is possible to secure a number of well-publicised convictions for illicit detecting and related offences that produce penalties that are sufficient to have a deterrent effect, it is possible that the 'casual' or opportunist nighthawks will be discouraged. This would thereby enable enforcement activity to be directed towards organised groups and individuals who are less likely to be dissuaded.

While it is not possible to anticipate the outcome of prosecutions, the number of cases going to court is increasing, and is a testament to the increasing ability of those involved to build cases that have a credible chance of success. This reflects one of the major strengths of the developing approach, which is the creation of multi-agency partnerships that are being formalised through the MoU and supported by the work of individuals and other bodies with an interest in protecting our past. Heritage professionals and others with a knowledge of police procedures and evidential requirements are increasingly able to supply intelligence or practical support in police investigations and operations targeting nighthawks. Similarly, working with police officers and staff from the CPS with an awareness of heritage crime issues has allowed the development of prosecution strategies using the most appropriate combinations of charges backed up by heritage-specific Impact Statements prepared by heritage professionals that convey the full intensity of the damage done or loss incurred. By combining the specialist knowledge of heritage professionals, the Police and CPS it is possible to bring prosecutions under the most suitable combination of a wide variety of legislation including:

The potential power of the latter piece of legislation, which is being deployed in a current case, is quite staggering with respect to the potential forfeiture of possessions and home if they cannot be shown to have been legitimately acquired.

Illicit detecting will only ever receive a limited amount of Police and CPS resource; however, it seems that we are now at a point where, when that resource can be deployed, those agencies, in combination with those in the Heritage Sector (archaeologists, detectorists and others) who work with them, should be able to make a real difference.


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