This week brought the sentencing of the case of the partial destruction of one of the Priddy Circles in the Mendips in Somerset. A retired businessman who had bought the farm house near the Circles had hired a contractor to do some building work across one of the monuments. This work led to the partial filling and destruction of one of the Circles. This week the landowner was ordered to pay up to £37,000 for restoration work, given a fine of £2,500 and told to pay legal costs of £7,500.
How has the archaeological community responded to this sentence? RESCUE has not notified this news on its web page. BAJR does not have it in its archaeology news even if the actual destruction can be found through their search engine in the Past Horizons blog (under English Heritage). Neither is this news on the news page of the Council of British Archaeology or English Heritage. English Heritage has released a press release, though, flagged elsewhere in the blogosphere. I was unable to find it on the English Heritage web pages. I myself noticed the news from that always reliable archaeological source – the Daily Mail Online. It has also been notified by the local paper in Somerset.
Heritage Action blog has dissected the verdict and referred to the EH press release. Their verdict of the verdict is that the fine for destroying a unique Neolithic monument was a joke. They refer to a recent sentence were a fine of £2,600 was handed for installing uPVC windows in a listed farmhouse. It is clear that even if there is a price for the restoration work, the scale of sentencing was lenient – considering the relative wealth of the guilty party. English Heritage states that "English Heritage is very pleased that Mr Penny has agreed to pay for repairs to the monument and other mitigation works at a cost of around £38,000... ...In sentencing the judge was clear that had it not been for Mr Penny’s agreement to pay these substantial mitigation costs, the fine would have been significantly higher".
The judge considered the cooperation of the accused throughout the process a factor that led to a more lenient sentence and lower fine. English Heritage is happy with this verdict as a showcase that they "can and will prosecute in cases of serious damage and unauthorised works to Scheduled Monuments". English Heritage considers as a positive sign the recognition from the part of the defendant and the court that the Priddy Circles are of great importance and that they agree that this was a serious offence.
Is £2,500 a lot? The damaged section is perhaps one quarter of the area of one circle. There are four Priddy Circles, and thus, the damage was done to a 1/16 of the Circles. The site has been compared to the Stonehenge and if this can be taken for face value, one could cheekily suggest that serious damage to Stonehenge might result with a fine of £40,000 – if the accused shows remorse and agrees that Stonehenge is of great importance. And the sum would only be this high, if the damage would cover all parts of the monument...