TWO amateur history enthusiasts stand accused of trying to flog ancient Viking coins worth a cool £766,000
Roger Pilling, 74, from Lancashire, and Craig Best, 46, from County Durham are said to have tried to sell the haul to representatives of a mystery US buyer, who were in fact undercover police.
Both men deny conspiracy to convert criminal property – undeclared treasure in the form of the coins, and possessing criminal property.
Matthew Donkin, opening the case for the prosecution at Durham Crown Court, said the defendants had known that the coins came from a Viking hoard and dated back to Alfred the Great.
The court heard that one especially rare coin had been valued at £70,000 while the combined worth of the 44 coins was around £766,000.
However, Mr Donkin also emphasised it was not just the monetary value which was key but also they were historically and culturally important.
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He told the jury there would be “history lessons” for them during what is expected to be a four-week trial.
The prosecutor told the court that it was not alleged the two men found the extremely rare coins but were unearthed by someone who chose not to declare them.
He added the rightful owner of the coins was the crown.
The two accused were arrested following an undercover cop operation, the court heard.
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They were led to believe that a man, “Hugh”, was a broker and “Max” was a coin expert but they were in fact police.
The prosecution alleges Best took three coins to a meeting in a Durham hotel bar.
Mr Donkin told the court the conspiracy to sell the coins started in 2018 when Best contacted a US radiology professor at the University of Michigan, Ronald Bude, who was also a collector and lecturer on coins.
In an initial assessment of the coins Bude said they were fake and he was consulting an expert at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
Best, Mr Donkin claimed, was not pleased by this and said his email response was significant.
It read: “They are a hoard as you know they are this can cause me problems all you had to do was say you didn’t want them and that was the end of it.”
The court also heard Best had told Bude the coins were so good that he would need to fly over for them.
He had said in an email: “These coins are big money I will send you a sim card with them all on if you want. I am looking at £2-250k for all of these that’s how good they are.”
Mr Donkin also told the jury it would hear evidence from Dr Gareth Williams, an expert in medieval coins at the British Museum.
He would say the coins dated from around AD874 to AD879 and had been issued in Wessex and Mercia.
Mr Donkin said: “The majority of the coins are of a comparatively rare type known as cross or lozenge.
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“Two of them are the extremely rare two-emperor type.”
The trial is ongoing.
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