POLICE have arrested two men after thieves raided a protected shipwreck in the Thames Estuary.
Officers from Essex and Kent moved quickly to arrest two individuals from Kent on Tuesday after a cannon and other items were taken from the wreck of HMS London, a warship that exploded and sank off Southend in 1665.
Local diver Steve Ellis was in shock when the Enquirer broke the news to him on Tuesday afternoon – just weeks after he had been granted a year-long licence to protect and explore the wreck.
“We had only been diving the wreck this weekend so it’s shocking to think something like this could have happened,” said the 46-year-old from Westcliff.
“It certainly seems a planned attack as you cannot just lift cannons off a wreck of that size. It’s just a shame that people will go out of their way to smash a wreck and steal anything of value. The items on the wreck have huge historical value – only time will tell what permanent damage has been done.”
HMS London was a 90-cannon warship that blew up accidentally in peacetime in 1665, just a year after its launch, killing 300 people.
After outrage following an earlier dive to recover a bronze cannon at the wreck, it was handed ‘protected’ status in 2008 making it an offence to tamper with, damage or remove any objects from the wreck.
Tuesday’s arrests were conducted with help from English Heritage and the Receiver of Wreck using ‘intelligence’ gathered by police over a period of time.
In a day of coordinated action, a 44-year-old man, from Ramsgate, was arrested at a commercial address in Dover. A search was carried out at a residential address in Ramsgate and a number of items were seized.
A 54-year-old man from Dover was also arrested on a boat at a marina in Gravesend.
As the Enquirer went to press both men were being interviewed at a police station in Kent.