Prosecuting, Ian Hope has told a jury at Canterbury Crown Court that scuba-diver Nigel Ingram, 57, from Teynham in Kent, and boat-owner John Blight, 56, from Winchelsea in Sussex, were involved in the “commercial exploitation” of shipwrecks, and had “deliberately and dishonestly” failed to declare their finds to the Receiver of Wreck.

The men were said to have raised items valued at around £80,000 from the cruiser.

Ingram and Blight each face four charges of fraud committed between 2010 and 2015, and Ingram a fifth charge of possessing £16,000 in criminal property. They have denied the charges.

A French diver who visited the Hermes wreck in September 2014 was said to have seen a piece of machinery that appeared to be in the process of being dismantled. When he had dived the site again the following day the item had gone, the court was told.

On the same day French authorities had boarded Blight’s boat De Bounty in the vicinity of the wreck, but had allowed it to go on its way. Kent Police and other bodies later launched an investigation.

Ingram was said to have been previously warned by the UK Maritime & Coastguard Agency about not declaring salvage to the Receiver of Wreck. After the warning he had declared china, and three portholes from fishing vessels.

In January last year both men were arrested and charged, as reported on Divernet.

Blight was said to have told police that he had taken Ingram diving at the Hermes site but that nothing had been taken. Ingram admitted finding a condenser unit that he had sold for several thousand pounds, but did not think it had come from the war grave.

Officers searching Ingram’s home had found some 100 artefacts, including a ship’s bell, torpedo-hatch, metal ingots and china, the court heard.

Also discovered was a book said to detail cash received for salvaged items, while Ingram’s computer was said to contain photos of him posing with large artefacts.

The sum of £16,000 in cash found in his safe was claimed to be part of the proceeds of selling salvaged items. Between May 2012 and December 2015 Ingram was said to have visited a Sittingbourne-based scrap-metal dealer 35 times.

More recovered artefacts were found at Blight’s home, the court was told.

Launched in 1898, HMS Hermes was modified in 1913 to become the Royal Navy’s first experimental seaplane-carrier.

At the start of WW1 she was recommissioned to carry aircraft for the Royal Naval Air Service, but was sunk by U-27 in October with the loss of 44 men. She lies inverted at a depth of 30m off Ruylingen Bank.

The trial is expected to last for two weeks.

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