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16 June 2015, 06:00
A commercial diver has pleaded guilty to a £46,000 fraud by falsely stating he had found three cannons in international waters to avoid them being claimed by the Crown.
Vincent Woolsgrove, of Ramsgate, Kent, entered his plea to a single count of fraud at Southampton Crown Court following a two-year investigation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).
The 48-year-old had reported finding five cannons during the summer 2007, two from the wreck of the warship London and three in international waters off the coast of Kent.
The cannons recovered from the warship "London'' were both very rare bronze Peter Gill and commonwealth cannons.
The London was a second rate warship built in Chatham dockyard in 1654 and became part of Charles II 'restoration navy'. In 1665 the London blew up accidentally off Southend when a powder magazine exploded.
The three that he had reported finding off North Foreland were 24lb bronze cannons originally from the City of Amsterdam.
The cannons were part of a battery of 36 cannons produced in Amsterdam to protect the city in the early part of the 16th century, and were assigned to Dutch ships during the first Anglo Dutch war.
Woolsgrove was subsequently awarded the title of three Dutch cannons, as the MCA were unable to prove at that time that the cannons were property of the Crown and he sold them to a US collector for more than £50,000.
A further investigation by the MCA, Kent & Essex Police & Historic England (formerly English Heritage) found that the three Dutch cannons had been issued to Dutch vessels, Groote Liefde and St Mattheus to attack the English fleet during the first Anglo-Dutch War in 1653.
The vessels were then captured by the English and the cannons taken as prizes. These cannons were subsequently placed on board the warship London until 1665 when it blew up with the loss of more than 200 on board.
A MCA spokeswoman said: "This evidence disproved Mr Woolsgrove's claim that he had found the cannons outside territorial waters and they were in fact property of the Crown. If he had reported them correctly he would have been entitled to a substantial salvage award.''
Sir Alan Massey, MCA chief executive, said: "This is an important case and should serve as a deterrent to others. The laws on salvage are very clear and they work well when properly applied. Those tempted to circumvent those rules can expect our close attention.''
Mark Harrison, Historic England's national policing and crime adviser, said: "This case sets an important precedent in the fight against uncontrolled salvage by a small criminal minority who have no appreciation for England's maritime heritage.
"Woolsgrove used sophisticated techniques and equipment to remove these valuable artefacts from the seabed.''
Woolsgrove will be sentenced on September 4.