Four metal detectorists have been given suspended sentences after being found illegally using a metal detector at a protected Roman site in mid Suffolk.

The men, all from Norfolk, were arrested on Wednesday, October 12 on suspicion of using a metal detector on a site scheduled as an ancient monument, contrary to Section 42 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act.

Bradley Ling, 24, of Pond Lane, Surlingham, Kyle Mickleburgh, 25, of Donchurch Close, Norwich, Michael Travell, 37, of Beverley Road, Norwich and Aaron Williams, 25, of Fleeters Hill, Hingham, appeared at Suffolk Magistrates' Court on Wednesday, May 17.

East Anglian Daily Times: Suffolk Magistrates' Court.Suffolk Magistrates' Court. (Image: Newsquest)

The court heard the men travelled to Baylham Roman Site, a first century fort located in Greater Ipswich.

All four men entered a guilty plea to using a metal detector in a protected place without the written consent of the Commission, as well as being charged with going equipped for theft.

East Anglian Daily Times: Kyle Mickleburgh, 25, of Donchurch Close.Kyle Mickleburgh, 25, of Donchurch Close. (Image: East Anglia News Service)

Williams also pleaded guilty to removing without written consent an object of archaeological/historical interest found using a metal detector in a protected place.

At Suffolk Magistrates' Court on Wednesday, June 28, it was heard that rural police officer Sergeant Brian Calver was passing the site at 10.15pm and spotted the four men using a handheld thermal imaging camera.

While continuing to monitor them discreetly, he called for a helicopter and dog unit.

East Anglian Daily Times: Bradley Ling, 24, of Pond Lane, Surlingham.Bradley Ling, 24, of Pond Lane, Surlingham. (Image: East Anglia News Service)

All four men tried to run and hide in the treeline, discarding their metal detectors which were later found by police.

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The court heard that, in his police interview, Travell described the attempted escape as "funny," saying he would have run across the A14 if he had known the police were pursuing him, whether there was oncoming traffic or not.

When made aware of the site's historical importance, he added: "We hit the jackpot then, didn't we boy? I will go back there tonight.

"It was left by the Romans, so no-one owns it."

East Anglian Daily Times: Michael Travell, 37, of Beverley Road, Norwich.Michael Travell, 37, of Beverley Road, Norwich. (Image: East Anglia News Service)

Suffolk County Council's finds recording officer Anna Booth confirmed that the earliest finds were eight roman coins, five of which were late Roman and could date back to as early as 275 AD.

A Historic England representative said the illegal removal of such artefacts could lead to the "irretrievable loss of information".

The defence for three of the men - Ling, Mickleburgh and Williams - said "they absolutely did not think through the consequences of their actions on the day in question."

Referring to a photograph found on one of the defendant's phones, the prosecution also noted that an "extremely rare" medieval gold ring worth £20-50,000 had never been recovered.

East Anglian Daily Times: Aaron Williams, 25, of Fleeters Hill, Hingham.Aaron Williams, 25, of Fleeters Hill, Hingham. (Image: East Anglia News Service)

While not proved to be found at this location and not relating to the Magistrates' Court charges, they argue this shows the level of planning involved in this incident.

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All four defendants have had their 16 weeks custody suspended for a period of 18 months, with a range of conditions including GPS tags for 90 days and a variety of rehabilitation activity requirements.

Each has been ordered to pay £399 compensation and the court also ordered the forfeiture of the coins and destruction of the metal detectors.

East Anglian Daily Times: Suffolk Constabulary rural police officer Sergeant Brian Calver.Suffolk Constabulary rural police officer Sergeant Brian Calver. (Image: Charlotte Bond, Newsquest)

After the sentencing, Sergeant Brian Calver said outside of court: "I think this was a really good, positive result today.

"When we look at the evidence we had and the fact that we got an early guilty plea, obviously that has to be taken into consideration for the sentencing, on balance that's a really positive result.

He added: "I hope that sends a strong message out to anyone else who thinks it's acceptable to come and steal our heritage under the cover of darkness."