FOUR metal detectorists have denied illegally dealing "tainted cultural objects" after uncovering a haul of Anglo-Saxon and Viking treasure near Leominster.

George Powell, 37, Layton Davies, 50, Paul Wells, 59, and Simon Wicks, 56, are accused of digging up the hoard of artefacts in 2015 and failing to declare it as treasure.

The relics found near Leominster included gold and silver coins, a gold ring, a gold arm bracelet and a crystal sphere as well as silver ingots.

It is the legal responsibility of the finder of any precious metal objects that are over 300 years old to report them to the local coroner as possible treasure under the terms of the Treasure Act (1996).

Today the four men appeared at Worcester Crown Court where they spoke only to confirm their names during a 25 minute hearing.

Powell, of Pill, in Newport, Shropshire,Davies, of Pontypridd, Mid Glamorgan and Wicks, of Hailsham, East Sussex, all pleaded not guilty to dealing in tainted cultural objects.

Wells, of Rumney, Cardiff, was not asked to enter a plea after requesting the prosecution to review his case on the basis he handed the coins to police before he was charged.

If found guilty they could face a maximum prison sentence of seven years as well as a fine under the Dealing in Cultural Objects Offences Act 2003.

A “tainted cultural object" is described in law as being an "object of historical, architectural or archaeological interest."

Judge Jim Tindal told the quartet that their trial will last for four weeks and begin on September 30 next year.

He said: "Clearly this is a complicated case. Each of you will have time with your lawyers to discuss the case.

"For the moment the next hearing you must attend is your trial on September 30, 2019.

"If you fail to attend, the trial will go on within your absence."

The group were given unconditional bail and a pre-trial review will take place on March 15 at Worcester Crown Court

West Mercia Police said due to the complexity of the investigation, the force had enlisted the help of multiple agencies including both local and national archaeological authorities and experts from the British Museum.