BBC Inside Out investigates Merseyside man after claims he misled investors in search for sunken treasure

In a programme to be shown on BBC One in the North West on Monday 15 November at 7.30pm, BBC Inside Out investigates claims that a Merseyside man misled investors in the search for buried treasure.

Investors from across the North West bankrolled a salvage expedition off the coast of Anglesey but, several months later, the project ran out of money and there was no sign of any gold. Inside Out looks into the role of the project leader, Joe McCormack.

From Liverpool, he has spent the past 30 years scouring the seas in search of sunken treasure but has he deliberately misled investors or is he simply a man obsessed with having a boy’s own adventure?

The programme speaks to investors who feel they have been lied to – one of whom alleges he was told by McCormack that he could make up to a million pounds.

The shipwreck in question is said to be one of the ships which was lost without trace in 1746 when Bonnie Prince Charlie was fleeing the English. Purported to be laden with gold, McCormack’s plan was to get a diving team together, excavate the ship and bring home the treasure. The start of the dive was considered to be of such historic significance that the media came out in force.

McCormack got a team of investors together to finance the project and, while it is well known that the coast of Anglesey is littered with wrecks, he produced a vital piece of “evidence” that had convinced them to put money in.

The evidence in question is a ring seal McCormack claimed his son found on the seabed and which, investors say, they were led to believe belonged to Mary Queen of Scots. On his website, Maritime Resurgence, McCormack claims the ring seal has been authenticated by the “Museum of Scotland”.

But the programme contacted The National Museum of Scotland who told them there is no evidence that the seal belonged to Mary Queen of Scots. And, they say they did not authenticate the ring seal as belonging to any “time, period, owner or location.”

In a statement to the programme, The National Museum of Scotland said: “The comments on the Maritime Resurgence website do not set out the full context of our original correspondence with Mr McCormack. We do not endorse the content of this website and will be writing to ask that any misleading references to us are removed.”

Richard Holland, a doctor of genetics from Southport, not only put his own money into the exploration he also convinced nine other friends and family to do the same to a total of £70,000. He says: “He (McCormack) was very convincing about the project. It was going to reinvigorate the area around Holyhead. There was going to be a major documentary about the project that we were on and there was going to be a book published as well.”

Inside Out emailed McCormack telling him the Museum of Scotland hadn’t dated the ring seal. He emailed back conceding that the seal’s date could not be 100 per cent proven. But he also said given what was found, and where, he still believed it to be original and supported his theory that the ring seal was used by the crew of a ship to prove to the Scots they were allies of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

He added that a small number of investors “had an axe to grind” against him but he declined to be interviewed for the programme.

So, were the investors misled or were they naïve in their quest to make a killing? As retired marine archaeologist Michael Bowyer says: “If you buy any shares on the stock market you consult a stock broker… and who did they consult when they invested this money in Joe McCormack? They didn’t go to any serious maritime historians or archaeologists, it was just on what Joe McCormack had told them.”

Inside Out can be seen on BBC One in the North West on Monday 15 November at 7.30pm.

Viewers outside the North West can view the programme on digital channel 978 or at bbc.co.uk/iplayer.

About the author

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1