TWO treasure hunters in Oldham are to be investigated by police after a unique 2,000-year-old Roman ring, which they claimed to have found in a field, turned out to have been bought on eBay.
Friends Colin Hilton and Gary Moore say they found the ring buried six-inches deep in a field near Daisy Nook Country Park, Failsworth, on November 26 last year.
The pair had permission from the elderly landowner to use their metal detectors on the farmland.
Mr Hilton, from Limehurst, said: "I was getting grief from the missus and just wanted to get out of the house for half an hour. I wish I’d never gone out now.
"We were standing next to each other and we picked up the same tone from both detectors. I was the one who actually picked it up."
After cleaning the mud from their find, they say they realised it could be valuable and handed it in.
According to the law, when valuables like this are discovered they must be handed to the district coroner within 14 days, who then informs the British Museum and decides if what was found qualifies as ‘treasure’.
A treasure trove inquest is held and, if the museum wants to buy it, the finder receives a reward.
In the case of the Oldham ‘find’, X-ray analysis revealed the ring was 84 to 86 per cent gold, 11 to 13 per cent silver and one to two per cent copper.
Dr Richard Hobbs, curator of Romano British collections at the British Museum, said: "It is a Roman filigree gold ring, made from a drawn strand of wire. There are no exact parallels with this item. It looks more likely to be a finger ring. The date is first or second century AD."
An inquest in Oldham on Thursday decided the ring was indeed 'treasure', and Colin Hilton was questioned as to how and when it was found.
However, the coroner then stunned those present by revealing evidence that the ring had actually been listed for sale on the internet auction site eBay on November 12, 2005, and sold seven days later.
It attracted 13 bids and sold for £42.23, plus £1.85 postage and packing.
The seller has since stated he bought the ring from a third party in Austria.
The coroner said: "Given that this item was clearly bought and sold on eBay prior to the date it was found I am not satisfied that a criminal act has not been committed, therefore I am proposing to involve Greater Manchester Police. I know from the British Museum that this is the first circumstance of this type nationwide."
The police are expected to investigate whether the two local men are guilty of fraud and whether they had actually bought the ring and then pretended to find it, hoping that they would get a reward greater than the sum originally paid for the item.
After the inquest was adjourned, Colin Hilton said: "I have been shafted. I didn’t want to make money or get in the papers."
Gary Moore, who has since been unanimously voted out of the North West Metal Detecting Club (NWMDC), said: "I did everything according to the law and look what I got for my troubles."
Mr Moore claims someone he knows has since admitted hiding the ring in the field as a prank.
Cyril Askew, chairman of the NWMDC and a metal detector with 20 years’ experience, said that he thought the ring was worth hundreds of pounds, and poured scorn on the Oldham men’s claims.
He said: "I just hope this does not bring the hobby into disrepute."