Suffolk: Friendship ruined by �300,000 Dallinghoo coins find

IT WAS one of the most important and exciting archaeological discoveries of its kind in 150 years.

A total of 840 Iron Age gold coins – dating back to life in Britain before it fell under the influence of the Roman Empire – were found in a field at Dallinghoo, near Woodbridge.

But since the hoard – dubbed the Dallinghoo Gold – was discovered at the end of March 2008 it has left a friendship in ruins and led to accusations of betrayal.

This week the hoard was valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee at �300,000.

Following almost two years of legal wrangling a decision was also made on who should receive the money from whichever museum eventually buys the hoard.

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And it has left the initial finder of the coins, Michael Darke, furious. Speaking to the EADT last night he blamed the rift on his former friend Keith Lewis, who helped him recover the full hoard.

The committee decided that the landowner, Cliff Green, will receive 50% of the find value, working out at �150,000.

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The rest was split between Mr Darke and Mr Lewis, who will receive �75,803 and �74,196 respectively.

Mr Darke said he will fight the decision, believing that he should receive �150,000 because he was the initial finder of the treasure.

However, Mr Lewis said it is a fair result and claimed that he had found the bulk of the coins.

“I am as honest as the day is long,” he said. “I have done nothing wrong.”

The bitter dispute began at the end of March 2008.

Mr Darke, a grandfather who works for D J Spall Recycling, near Woodbridge, had initially found nine gold coins while searching a 30-acre field alone. The weather conditions were poor, so he decided to return the following day.

But before returning he enlisted the help of Mr Lewis.

Mr Darke said: “I phoned him because I knew that he knew the rules with this kind of thing. He used to be my insurance man for 20 years and he used to come round to mine for a cup of tea. At that time I worked very closely with the police through my job and so I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing.”

Mr Darke claimed Mr Lewis helped him to dig the coins out of the ground before he took away four of them for himself.

“It was not until I received a letter from the British Museum that I found out he had handed the four coins in and was demanding half of the reward,” said Mr Darke. “I trusted him as a friend. I was totally gutted.”

However, Mr Lewis, a postman who lives in Great Blakenham, last night disputed Mr Darke’s version of events.

“I was invited by him to use my expert help as I have been doing this kind of thing for 17 years,” he said. “I found the bulk amount of the coins.

“They were found on my signal and I spent five hours on my knees digging them up. It is a fair result and there was never any deal between us.

“I am not knocking the bloke, he has his views and I have mine.

“I am not a hard-up person and I do not do people down. I am as honest as the day is long. There is no bitterness with me at all.

“As far as I am concerned it is a fair deal, end of story.”

Despite everything, both men at least agree on one thing. After finding one of the most exciting and interesting archaeological finds in years, they do not feel as happy as they should.

Mr Lewis admitted the dispute had left a “nasty taste” while Mr Darke said it had caused him to have sleepless nights.

“I sometimes wish I had never found the coins because of all the hassle it has caused,” Mr Darke said.

“Without exaggerating, it should have been exciting and interesting and something to look forward to. But it has been a nightmare.”

However, there is at least one person who is happy.

Landowner Cliff Green, 69, will receive �150,000 which will be split equally with his brother, with whom who he jointly owns the land.

He said: “It is very nice. Obviously it has been going on for a while and it will be nice to have it all cleared up. It was obviously very exciting at the time.”

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