TWO men have today (Thursday) been found guilty of conspiring to illegally sell a number of Anglo-Saxon coins that are believed to be linked to the Herefordshire Hoard.

The 44 coins, valued at around £766,000, are understood to be of major historical significance surrounding the relationship between Alfred the Great of Wessex and his less well-known contemporary Ceolwulf II of Mercia.

Officers from Durham Constabulary, with the support of the North East Regional Organised Crime Unit (NEROCU) and Lancashire Constabulary, recovered the coins from properties in County Durham and Lancashire during a police investigation in 2019.

Hereford Times: One of the coins recoveredOne of the coins recovered (Image: Durham Constabulary)

At Durham Crown Court today (Thursday), Craig Best, 46, of South View, Bishop Auckland, and 75-year-old Roger Pilling, of Loveclough, Rossendale, Lancashire, were found guilty of conspiracy to convert criminal property and possession of criminal property between September 2018 and May 2019.

The pair were remanded in custody to be sentenced at Durham Crown Court on Thursday, May 4.

The haul included two extremely rare examples of two-headed coins bearing images of both Alfred of Wessex and Ceolwulf.

The coins are believed to have been discovered in a field near Leominster in a multimillion-pound hoard found by two metal detectorists in 2015. However, the pair did not declare the find as treasure and instead sold the items to dealers.

George Powell, 41, and Layton Davies, 54 were found guilty of theft, conspiracy to conceal criminal property and conspiracy to convert criminal property.

They were sentenced to 10 years and eight years and six months in prison respectively, later reduced to six years and five years after an appeal.

Powell was told that her had to repay £601,250 and Davies £603,180 in full within three months or they would serve five years and four months imprisonment each in default of payment. 


The hoard is so important because it fills a gap in the understanding of history at this time. Until now accounts have suggested Ceolwulf of Mercia as a “puppet” of the Vikings and a minor nobleman rather than a proper King in his own right.

However, the coins tell a very different story and show two rulers standing side by side as allies and peers.

In 2018, Best contacted a US-based professor, who had a passion for ancient coins, and tried to interest him in buying some of the hoard.

Unsure if they were real, the academic contacted a UK-based expert.

Discussions with the British Museum followed about the potential historical value of the coins before Durham Constabulary was informed and an investigation was launched.

Dr Gareth Williams, curator of Early Medieval Coins and Viking Collections at the British Museum, said: “The coins in this case have already begun to transform our knowledge and understanding of the political situation of the late ninth century.

“The coins show beyond any possible doubt that there was a political and economic alliance between Alfred and Ceolwulf II.

“Together the two kings carried out a major reform of the coinage, introducing high-quality silver coins, with the Two Emperors design symbolising this alliance, followed by a second joint coinage.

“As more coins emerge, it is clear that this monetary alliance lasted for some years, while an individual coin from the Durham hoard proves that the more symbolic Two Emperors type was the earlier of the two.”


Detective Superintendent Lee Gosling, Senior Investigating Officer for Operation Fantail, at Durham Constabulary, said: “This is an extremely unusual case, as it’s not very often we get the chance to shape British history.

“It is astonishing that the history books need re-writing because of this find.

“These coins come from a hoard of an immense historical significance relating to the Vikings and we are delighted that they are now with the British Museum.

“This has been a lengthy and complex investigation and I would like to thank the Durham Major Crime Team, specialist officers, historical experts, Crown Prosecution Service and prosecuting counsel in this case for all their help.

“Hopefully this verdict sends out a message that the actions of Best and Pilling were denying the country of crucial historical knowledge and that organised acquisitive crime will not be tolerated.

“As this case shows, even if criminals travel across police force boundaries, they are still very much within reach.”

Detective Chief Inspector Phil Cleugh, of the North East Regional Organised Crime Unit (NEROCU), said: “Not only does the recovery of these coins hold a great significance for our history but it is yet another example of how, with partnership working, we can bring organised criminals before the courts and continue protecting those they’re looking to exploit.

“This outcome demonstrates the resources at our disposal and our ability to take swift action – and our work won’t stop here.”