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Man jailed after 13,000 snowdrop bulbs dug up at Norfolk heritage site

PUBLISHED: 15:44 21 June 2019 | UPDATED: 15:44 21 June 2019

18 acres of woodland are carpeted with snowdrops at Walsingham Abbey. Picture: Ian Burt

18 acres of woodland are carpeted with snowdrops at Walsingham Abbey. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

Two men stole 13,000 snowdrop bulbs from the grounds of an important Norfolk heritage site famed for its snowdrops, which carpet the grounds.

18 acres of woodland are carpeted with snowdrops at Walsingham Abbey. Picture: Ian Burt18 acres of woodland are carpeted with snowdrops at Walsingham Abbey. Picture: Ian Burt

Peter Gibbs, 31, and Stefan Simpson, 30, helped dig up an estimated 13,000 snowdrop bulbs, worth about £1,500, which were taken at night from the Walsingham Estate, near Fakenham.

Police pulled over the pair in the early hours of March 13, on the A148 at Little Walsingham and discovered the bags of snowdrops stolen from the grounds of Walsingham Abbey on the 18-acre estate.

Police found multiple bin bags containing the bulbs in the rear seat and boot containing thousands of bulbs - worth approximately £1,500.

Ben Brighouse, prosecuting at Norwich Crown Court, said that both men made admissions on arrest and Gibbs, of Colville Road, Newton, near Wisbech, later admitted that Simpson had asked him if he wanted to make some money and said it was £5 a bag picking flowers.

Simpson also said he had been approached by a traveller, who had offered him £10 a bag.

Gibbs and Simpson of Lilac Close, Walsoken, pleaded guilty to one count of theft and one of criminal damage.

Simpson also admitted being in breach of a suspended sentence order and was jailed for a total of 10 months.

Gibbs was given a 12-month community order and three-month curfew and made to do 200 hours unpaid work.

Sentencing the pair, judge Anthony Bate said the bulbs had been "stolen to order" in a "nocturnal" raid on the heritage site, which was enjoyed by the public.

He said that he put Simpson higher up the chain as he had helped direct what went on and was also more heavily convicted, with 18 convictions for 47 offences.

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William Carter, for Gibbs, said that he had no idea of the historical importance of the site until he Googled it.

He said he just thought it was a chance to earn some easy cash.

"He is now very ashamed," he said. "He is a thoroughly decent man, who has been a fool."

Stephen Spence, for Simpson, said the bulbs could be replaced without causing any long term harm.

"It causes inconvenience to people that enjoy walking in the park and seeing the snowdrops."

Speaking after the sentencing, Jonathan Papworth, local policing commander for Breckland North, said: "While these types of crimes are not common crimes, they can certainly be impactive.

"The Wildlife and Countryside Act is there to protect species which could be put at risk if the trade in them wasn't controlled. Unscrupulous people can try to make a lot of money by targeting protected flora and fauna, to the detriment of the wild environment."

And John Downing, the estate's resident land agent, said: "We are grateful to the local police for investigating and following up the evidence provided without delay.

"And to the courts for imposing an appropriate sentence, which we hope will act as a deterrent to others considering crime in the countryside to be an easy option."

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