Oxfordshire Director of Legal

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Family ordered to pay £160k over “irreparable damage” to scheduled monument

Three individuals found responsible for causing serious damage to a scheduled monument have been ordered to pay a total of £160,000 after being taken to court by Historic England.

John Mac, Elizabeth Mac, and their daughter Heather Mac caused “irreparable damage” to Withybrook deserted medieval village in Warwickshire between 2015 and 2018, Historic England said.

The family carried out substantial works without the necessary Scheduled Monument Consent from the Secretary of State, and then continued to do works despite multiple warnings.

A scheduled monument is a nationally important archaeological or historic site that is given protection under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

Unauthorised works to the Withybrook scheduled monument included the construction of a 4 metre wide track using machinery, and installation of a water pipe, troughs, gateposts and fencing, which Historic England considered to have caused a very high degree of harm. “In particular, the construction of the track damaged and destroyed the recorded medieval earthworks on the site, resulting in the total loss of an important medieval trackway (hollow way) and damage to the site of a medieval building.”

The Macs had been given written and verbal warnings from Historic England inspectors and Rugby Borough Council planning enforcement.

The Withybrook scheduled monument is on private land owned jointly by Heather and Elizabeth Mac. All three defendants knew the site was protected and of their responsibility in safeguarding its significance, Historic England said.

At a hearing at Warwick Crown Court they were ordered to pay fines of £30,000 each, and together costs of £70,000. They face automatic committal to prison for 14 months if the fines aren’t paid by 23 September 2020.

Andrew Wiseman, Historic England’s General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, said: “Wilful damage like this deprives current and future generations of important evidence and knowledge about our past. Our shared heritage is irreplaceable, and this sentence demonstrates the seriousness of the offence and with an impact reaching far beyond the boundaries of the monument itself.

“Owners of scheduled monuments have a duty to look after them and to apply for consent to carry out any works. The level of the fine shows that the courts take heritage crime very seriously.”

Cllr Jill Simpson-Vince, Rugby Borough Council portfolio holder for growth and investment, said: “This cynical act of cultural vandalism has caused irreparable damage to a protected historic site of national importance, and the severity of the fines imposed by the Judge sends a clear message to landowners who choose to ignore advice from our planning team and flout the law.”