Page last updated at 18:12 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

UK divers admit theft from wreck

Malcolm Cubin
The divers had faced up to six years in jail if found guilty

Three British divers have admitted illegally removing artefacts from an Atlantic Ocean shipwreck in 2002.

Peter Devlin, Steve Russ and Malcolm Cubin, all from Cornwall, admitted the charges at a court in Santiago, Spain.

The commercial divers were accused of stealing gold and diamonds and of destroying Spain's cultural heritage.

They each received two six-month prison sentences, suspended for two years, and fined a total of 5,000 euros (£4,600) after admitting taking tin ingots.

Prosecutors had initially sought a six-year jail term for the men.

We're disappointed because we still maintain we did nothing wrong
Malcolm Cubin

Mr Devlin, from Falmouth, Mr Cubin, from Truro, and Mr Russ, from Helston, had gone to Spain to work on the wreck of the Friesland, a Dutch vessel which sank in the Atlantic in the late 19th Century.

They said the dive company, Force 9 Salvage, based in Falmouth, had full permits to work on the Dutch vessel and had a contract with the Spanish government.

Prosecutors claimed they strayed onto the Don Pedro, a shipwreck which locals believe is loaded with gold and diamonds.

The three had admitted recovering bottles, tiles and broken china from the Don Pedro, which was off the coast of Galicia, simply to identify the wreck.

They said that, at the time of their arrest in May 2002, in Corrubedo in Galicia, they were on their way to meet the Spanish authorities to discuss their findings.

Flying home

After last-minute negotiations at the start of their trial, prosecutors agreed to drop charges of destruction of the patrimonial heritage of Spain and stealing diamonds and gold.

The trio admitted damaging and stealing from a wreck in order to avoid a hefty prison sentence, the organisation Fair Trials International said.

Speaking through Fair Trials International, Mr Cubin said they were relieved it was over but were angry they had to accept a suspended sentence.

He said: "We're disappointed because we still maintain we did nothing wrong, but there was nothing else we could do.

"There's no celebration, but relief."

Jago Russell, chief executive of Fair Trials International, said: "Peter Devlin and his colleagues' seven-year ordeal has today come to an end.

"We are very pleased that they are able to return home and will not be required serve a prison sentence in Spain."

The trio are due to fly home later in the week.

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