A TREASURE hunter is being sued by the Church of Scotland over a record £2million haul of Viking relics he found on their land.
Church chiefs are demanding Derek McLennan, 52, hands over £1million after he allegedly snubbed a written agreement to give them half the value of his bounty.
The metal detector buff is now facing a legal challenge in Edinburgh over claims he failed to respond to church pleas for their share of the cash.
One source said last night: “There was an indication he was going to pay the church a finder’s fee. That’s why he is being taken to court.
“The church has been unable to get a hold of him. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything that would preclude him from being in touch, it appears to be a choice.
“It’s a tricky one for the church chasing the money, but they do feel that they do have an entitlement of some kind of fee.
“The church could do a lot of good with that money. It was church land they were on. It should have been a happy, fortuitous thing.
“You don’t want to get in a legal wrangle over it. Why would anyone let him on to their land again — or any other detectorist?”
Derek unearthed 1,200-year-old gems including gold and silver jewellery, an early Christian cross and a rare intact Carolingian pot during a 2014 dig at a Dumfriesshire beach owned by the church.
We told the retired businessmen, from Ayr, Ayrshire, was promised the bumper reward three years later under Scots treasure trove laws.
His payment was raised through more than £430,000 in public donations, £1million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, £150,000 from the Scottish Government and £400,000 from the Art Fund.
The hoard — the biggest ever found in the UK — has since been handed over to National Museums Scotland.
Rules on discoveries north of the border mean only the finder receives payment, while in the rest of the UK awards are split with the landowner.
But Reverend David Bartholomew, a fellow detectorist who was on the jackpot dig with Derek, told how a deal to share any profits 50-50 had been struck with church chiefs.
He added: “That’s the normal agreement in England but in Scotland most detectorists work on that basis because you don’t get permission to detect.
“Usually it’s just a verbal agreement. In this case there was a written agreement between the general trustees of the Church of Scotland and Derek.”
The minister said charity champion Derek felt let down by experts drafted in after his discovery.
He added: “He felt very badly treated by the treasure trove system in Scotland who decide on rewards. Experts took control and he was pushed to the edge a bit. He did everything by the book in terms of working with the system.
“But he felt because of the way he was treated by the system he wanted to put the whole thing behind him. It’s an absolute mystery to me why it has got to this stage.”
Rev Bartholomew claimed he’s tried in vain to contact Derek about the row.
He said: “I emailed him and got nothing back and actually sent a letter about a year ago saying I’d heard the church hasn’t got anything and it’s not in your interests or anyone’s interests for it to get to a court case.”
MOST READ IN NEWS
The Church of Scotland confirmed their court action.
But a spokeswoman added last night: “It would be inappropriate for us to provide further commentary.”
Derek’s legal representative said: “My client has no comment at this time.”