Metal detectorist wanted after holes dug at historic East Northants site where Mary, Queen of Scots was killed
He was spoken to at the site hours before the criminal act took place
A man with a metal detector was spoken to just hours before two holes were dug at the East Northamptonshire site where Mary, Queen of Scots was tried and executed.
An investigation has been launched after the criminal incident within the grounds of Fotheringhay Castle - which is protected as a scheduled monument - overnight between June 1 and 2.
The holes were dug on the castle mounds and damaged the site of huge national importance. King Richard III was born there in 1452 and Mary, Queen of Scots was tried and executed there in 1587.
A man had been spoken to at the site earlier in the evening of June 1 about not being able to use a metal detector in the grounds of the castle. He apologised and walked off towards the river.
A police spokesman said: "He is described as white, about 6ft tall, of a slim build and had a long light coloured beard.
"He was wearing dark shorts and a dark short-sleeved shirt."
A spokesman for Historic England said: “The majority of the metal-detecting community comply with the laws and regulations regarding their use.
“However, the small number of people who steal artefacts and damage ancient sites are robbing us all of the knowledge and understanding that objects from the past can give us.”
The castle dates back to about 1100 when it was founded by the Earl of Northampton, Simon De Senlis, before it went into Prince David of Scotland's possession.
A century later Henry III took it under control after it was abandoned and it remained in royal hands until the reign of Edward II.
Mary, Queen of Scots spent her final days there when she was convicted of treason before she was beheaded in the castle's great hall.
The castle later fell into a state of disrepair and was demolished in the 17th century. Now just earthworks and some masonry is left but the site is protected because of its archaeological importance and is open to the public.
Police, who are working closed with History England to identify the culprit, want to speak to anyone who may have seen any suspicious activity in or around the castle, or may have any information on vehicles parked near to the site which may be related to the incident.
A spokesman said: "Anyone with information is asked to contact Northamptonshire Police on 101, quoting reference number 20000280911."
Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society, said he read the Northants Telegraph article with "some concern".
He said: "Metal detecting is all very well in a controlled practice such as was done to find the real site of the Battle of Bosworth, but unauthorised digging can do all sorts of damage, with loss of context for found objects as well as the obvious theft.
"The Richard III Society by its very nature is interested in research and that means we like to know what and where things have been found so that work can be done to fit them into our knowledge of the daily lives of the men and women who lived in the late middle ages. Loss of context is very damaging to our knowledge of these matters."