METAL detectorist John House claims ancient coins found near Dorchester have been lost after being handed to the authorities for a treasure hearing.

He says he is still waiting to find out about silver coins dating back to the Celts that he dug up at Muckleford in 1994.

And he fears that another Celtic coin handed over in 2000 has also gone missing.

Mr House, who lives in Dorchester, said that after 14 years he believes the coins have gone for good.

He said he found various silver coins on three different sites in 1994. They included hammered coins dating from the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I as well as two Celtic silver staters, medieval pennies and an Anglo-Saxon coin.

They were handed to Dorset County Council's archaeology department under the treasure laws then in place.

But a treasure trove inquest was not held until October 2000 and Mr House said he was surprised that the coins then produced as evidence at the hearing in Dorchester were not the same collection that he had handed in.

He said: "Some of my coins were missing. And there were a few others there that were not mine."

The hearing was the last treasure trove inquest held in the country as the coins were found before the treasure laws changed. The jury decided that only two of the coins - the silver staters - were treasure trove and they were seized for the Crown.

Mr House said: "At the inquest I also handed to the coroner a silver quarter stater that I had found the day before. That was the last I heard about those three coins."

He said he had written to the West Dorset Coroner Michael Johnston several times since then. He said: "It would be nice if these coins turned up, though I don't suppose they will now."

Mr House, a member of Stour Valley Search and Recovery Group, said he had arranged to share any proceeds with the landowners.

He added: "I've been doing this since 1977 and it's a hobby that I enjoy - you don't make much money in it. I like getting out in the fresh air. This is disappointing, but it hasn't stopped me from declaring anything I find in future that might be treasure.

"It's the law and I wouldn't like to think anyone is put off from doing that because of what happened to my coins."

Mr Johnston said he had raised the issue several times with the county council to ask the archaeology department to locate the coins.

He said: "Mr House handed in his finds and they have disappeared. I regularly raise it with the senior archaeologist at County Hall." A Dorset County Council spokesman said: "We are aware of the case and we are looking into it."