Costly Convictions for Family Guilty of Seriously Damaging Historic Site in Warwickshire
Three individuals 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, Heather Mac, and their daughter Elizabeth Mac caused irreparable damage to Withybrook deserted medieval village in Warwickshire between 2015 and 2018. Historic England brought the case against the Mac family after they carried out substantial works without the necessary Scheduled Monument Consent from the Secretary of State, and then continued to do works despite multiple warnings that they were destructive, illegal and must cease.
A scheduled monument is a nationally important archaeological or historic site that is given protection under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. These sites are designated in order to protect and preserve them for the benefit of this and future generations.
Damage to scheduled monument
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 damage was first brought to the attention of Historic England by local residents. Despite written and verbal warnings from Historic England inspectors and Rugby Borough Council planning enforcement, the Macs took no steps to reduce or minimise harm to the site and did not engage with Historic England’s investigation. The works were not committed by accident or through the act of rogue contractors, they were deliberate and sustained.
The Withybrook scheduled monument is on private land owned jointly by Heather and Elizabeth Mac. John Mac denied Historic England access to the site and enabled the damage by having machinery from the company he owned carry out some of the work. All three knew the site was protected and of their responsibility in safeguarding its significance.
They have been 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.
The unauthorised works to the site of the deserted medieval village of Withybrook have caused irreversible harm. Archaeological features have been disturbed, damaged and destroyed without consent. The remains of the Withybrook settlement are of national importance and the site is protected as a scheduled monument – the highest level of heritage protection available. The site’s potential to help us better understand medieval rural life and the people who lived, worked and died in this village has been immeasurably affected, as well as what it could tell us about the wider, national picture.
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.
This is an important judgment and its severity reflects not just the damage caused to the protected monument, but also the absence of engagement with our investigation and lack of remorse or willingness to make reparation.
This monument is valued by the local community and the damage is not reversible. Our thanks go out to the community for their help, and the help of others, in achieving this judgment.
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.
During sentencing at Warwick Crown Court, Judge Potter noted the defendants had not shown any remorse for their actions and there have not been any attempts or offers to assess and remediate the damage caused. The judge made reference to the defendants’ dishonesty and behaviour designed to delay the intervention of the authorities. Credit for admitting guilt was limited, with John Mac only deciding to enter a guilty plea two days before his trial at the Crown Court was due.
There are around 3,000 known sites of deserted or shrunken medieval settlements in England. Of these, only 460 are of higher enough quality of preservation and significance to be protected as scheduled monuments. Sites like this are one of the most important sources of understanding the medieval period as they show the historic pattern of rural land-use, provide evidence for the development of technology, and preserve buried deposits and material remains which tell us what life was like during the medieval period.
Summary of Sentences:
- Ms Elizabeth Mac: Fine of £30,000; costs of £19,000; victim surcharge £120
- Ms Heather Mac: Fine of £30,000; costs of £19,000; victim surcharge £120
- Mr John Mac: Fine of £30,000; costs of £32,000; victim surcharge £120
- Fines: £90,000
- Costs: £70,000
- Surcharges: £360
Deadline for payment: 23 September 2020
Automatic committal to prison for 14 months if the fines aren’t paid (costs are dealt with separately).