Court orders remorseless family to pay £160k after 'cynical act of vandalism' against deserted medieval village near Rugby

Three members of a family have been ordered to pay £160,000 after causing serious damage to the deserted medieval village of Withybrook.

Monday, 3rd February 2020, 1:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 6th February 2020, 11:34 am
A view across where the former medieval trackway was, looking up to the site of a medieval building. Photo: Historic England.

Historic England took John Mac, Heather Mac, and their daughter Elizabeth Mac to court after they caused irreparable damage to the village between 2015 and 2018.

Withybrook is a scheduled monument - meaning it is protected because it is considered to be a nationally important archaeological or historic site that should be preserved for future generations.

But the Mac family carried out substantial works without the necessary Scheduled Monument Consent from the Secretary of State.

The site as it was before the unauthorised works. Photo: Historic England.

They then continued to do works despite multiple warnings that they were destructive, illegal and must cease.

Unauthorised works to the Withybrook scheduled monument included the construction of a four 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.

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.

There are around 3,000 known sites of deserted or shrunken medieval settlements in England.

The damage caused by the unauthorised works. Photo: Historic England.

Of these, only 460 are of higher enough quality of preservation and importance to be protected as scheduled monuments.

A spokesperson for Historic England said: "The damage was first brought to the attention of Historic England by residents.

"And 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 assist 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 which is 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.

A spokesperson for Historic England said: "All three knew the site was protected and of their responsibility in safeguarding its significance."

Councillor Jill Simpson-Vince, Rugby Borough Council portfolio holder for growth and investment, branded the works an act of vandalism.

She 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."

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.

They have been ordered to pay fines of £30,000 each, and together costs of £70,000.

And they face automatic committal to prison for 14 months if the fines are not paid by September 23.

Andrew Wiseman, Historic England’s general counsel and corporate secretary, said: "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 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."

Dr Neil Rimmington and Nick Carter, the inspectors of Ancient Monuments in Historic England’s Midlands Region who have led on the case, said: "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."