IT was the find of a lifetime but the end of a long friendship of two metal detectorists.

Andy Aartsen and James Petts discovered 1,608 Romano-British coins from the third century AD in a field at Boldre near Lymington, an inquest heard.

The coins were in a red earthenware pot about 12 inches below the surface.

The hearing heard there is a dispute as to who had discovered the hoard and revealed the detecting club rules that govern who gets the credit for discoveries. The issue could end up in court, the inquest was told.

The inquest in Winchester heard a statement from Mr Aartsen, 54, from Surrey, that he was searching the field on May 4 2014 and came across about 25-30 coins.

Mr Petts, also from Surrey, joined him and Mr Aartsen said he had got an unstable signal.

Shortly afterwards Mr Petts found the pot. Mr Aartsen in his statement said: “I have no interest in the monetary value. I just want to be named as the finder of a Roman coin hoard. I can only speculate as to his (Mr Petts’) motives.”

But Mr Petts told the hearing Mr Aartsen walked off and he checked the signal and discovered a coin and shortly afterwards the pot containing more than 1,600 coins. It weighed 6.5kgs.

Mr Petts said Mr Aartsen was 100 yards away when he made the find.

Mr Petts said: “If you leave a signal and walk off then it is the next person’s find. He did not ask me to help him. He said he would get coins from another area. That is when I found the pot. By the time there were four or five of us in the area.

“He (Mr Aartsen) said ‘eff off, it’s mine’. But he left the signal and walked off and the next person came along. If he had stayed there and said ‘I have a signal, please check it out’ and we had dug together that would have been different.

“I never said it’s mine. The majority of the hoard is in the pot which I found, 99 per cent is mine, but I said it should be a joint find. But he (Mr Aartsen) basically refused.”

Southampton Coroner Grahame Short declared the find to be treasure and ruled that it should be ruled a joint find between the two men.

“I make no finding as to how that find should be apportioned between individuals. If they cannot agree between themselves it is a matter for the courts to decide,” said Mr Short.

The British Museum is interested in buying one of the coins. Most are relatively valueless.

After the inquest Mr Petts told the Daily Echo of the moment of discovery: “It is wonderment. You don’t realise it is happening.”

He said he had no idea of the value of the hoard. The proceeds are usually shared 50:50 between the finder and landowner. Mr Petts suggested the value of each coin may be as little as £5. Even that would value the find at around £8,000.

Of his broken relationship with Mr Aartsen, Mr Petts: “We have not spoken since. It is a real shame. We were at his wedding.”

He said club rules were quite clear that Mr Aartsen should have stayed at the spot and not walked away.

Katie Hinds, Hampshire finds liaison officer for the Portable Antiquties Scheme, said the coins dated between 260-274 AD. Most were ‘radiates’, quite common finds made up of 99 per cent bronze and one per cent silver.

Mr Short said the find near Lymington was unusual as most are in central Hampshire. Miss Hinds said metal detecting was banned across large parts of the New Forest Mr Aartsen was unavailable for comment.