£20k bill row over cannon

CAMPAIGNERS fighting for the return to Suffolk of an historic bronze cannon today fired a new warning shot across the bows of those holding the weapon.

By Richard Cornwell

CAMPAIGNERS fighting for the return to Suffolk of an historic bronze cannon today fired a new warning shot across the bows of those holding the weapon.

Stuart Bacon, head of the Suffolk Underwater Studies Unit, said the Royal Armories must pay £20,000-plus salvage rights – and he has the paperwork to prove it.

He has now put in a claim to the armories executive at Portsmouth and is waiting for their reply.

"What we really want is the cannon back here in Suffolk so that people can see it again – it's part of our local history," said marine archaeologist Mr Bacon.

"But if that is not going to be the case then the Royal Armories should pay us the salvage value of the cannon.

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"All the forms for salvage rights were filled in when it was first found – it's the first thing any diver must do when finding something at sea – and I have all the paperwork to prove it.

"At Christie's the gun would probably fetch more than £20,000 and so the Royal Armories should pay us 80 to 90 per cent of that sum. They are just ignoring this and I find it very disturbing. It seems there is one law for the Royal Armories and another for the rest of us."

The 16th century cannon was recovered by Mr Bacon, director of the Orford-based Suffolk Underwater Studies, and his team of divers from a wreck off Dunwich Bank in 1994 and placed outside his shop in Front Street.

There it remained for seven years until it was controversially cut from its chains, loaded onto a lorry and taken away to Fort Nelson at Portsmouth.

"Since then only a handful of Suffolk people have been able to see it. It's such a long way to go. When it was here people could see it all the time. It's absurd," said Mr Bacon.

"The salvage rights should be paid if they have no intention of returning the cannon. The North Sea is a very hostile environment in which to dive and the operation cost us between £2,000 and £4,000."

The Royal Armories have said that Mr Bacon does not have legal title to the cannon but have pledged that it will be returned to Orford when a suitable home – such as a maritime museum – has been created for it.

It has been given conservation treatment and is on public display at Portsmouth, but it is a national artifact and officials need to be certain it will be safe and have proper care in future.

No-one was available today to comment on the claim for salvage rights.

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