A GANG who took historic artefacts from Beeston Castle have been banned from metal detecting after admitting nighthawking.

Nighthawking is the theft of archaeological artefacts from protected archaeological sites and areas under the cover of darkness, most commonly by members of the public with the use of a commercial metal detector.

The men appeared at Chester Magistrates on May 7 for sentencing following an investigation by Cheshire Police, Historic England and South Yorkshire Police.

The five men were handed five-year criminal behaviour orders which prevents them from metal detecting at any English Heritage site in England and also in Wales.

Curtis Barlow, Gary Flanagan, Daniel James Lloyd, John Andrew Lorne and Francis James Ward were ordered to forfeit all artefacts and their metal detectors which have an estimated value of up to £1,000 and above.

The men's illegal activities were unearthed when a number of holes were found in the grounds of Beeston Castle and Roche Abbey in Yorkshire, both historic sites in the care of English Heritage, sparking an investigation in December 2019.

Further information led them to Ward and on New Year's Eve, officers from Cheshire executed a warrant at his Drolysden home.

This then led officers to Lorne and his home was searched during a warrant at which a number of items were seized.

Both men were arrested and interviewed while mobile phones and other devices were seized.

When analysing their phones officers discovered both men were part of a nighthawking WhatsApp group, leading to the arrest of Lloyd, Barlow and Flanagan.

PC Ashley Tether from Cheshire Police's Rural Crime Team led the investigation.

He said: "Their WhatsApp group clearly showed what they were up to and our subsequent forensic investigations alongside South Yorkshire police put them at the locations where the incidents had occurred.

"What followed was a number of months of carefully identifying and cataloguing the historic artefacts they had taken with the help of Historic England experts.

"The evidence we put together was such that they pleaded guilty at their first hearing.

"The theft of historic items and the damage caused to scheduled monuments and listed buildings is an assault on our history and the impact on the historic ground they have damaged should not be underestimated.

"Although no exact value can be determined for the artefacts taken, they are a piece of national history that help us to understand our past.

"Once these items are lost or damaged they can't be replaced and we lose the context and the story that may have helped us to understand our ancestors better.

"The items these men took for their own gain are part of our rich history and need to be protected which is why we embarked on a lengthy and complicated investigation with Historic England and South Yorkshire Police Rural Crime Team.

"These men are now barred from metal detecting near historic sites in England and Wales and if they want to do so on any other land, they need to show the land owner a copy of the CBO before conducting metal detecting activity – if you see them not adhering to this restriction you can report it to police on 101.

"Breaching such orders can result in a prison sentence."