Three member of the same family have been ordered to pay £160,000 in fines after damaging a deserted medieval village in Warwickshire, England.
John Mac, Heather Mac, and their daughter Elizabeth Mac caused irreparable damage to the remains of Withybrook 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.
The family carried out works such as 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.
According to Historic England, the village of Withybrook existed as early as the twelfth century. They explain:
The parish church, All Saints, had been built by the 12th century and was originally a chapel of Monks Kirby. A mill and mill pool are recorded between 1188 and 1191 and again in 1229, before being conveyed to Sir John Spencer in 1594. Coombe Abbey also held land and a fishpond in the village during the 12th century. By 1327 there were at least 14 households, and by the early 17th century Withybrook was responsible for two-thirds of the taxes payable by the parish. The hearth tax suggests that 33 households were located in the village at this time.
The Withybrook scheduled monument is now 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.
Dr Neil Rimmington and Nick Carter, the Inspectors of Ancient Monuments in Historic England’s Midlands Region who have led on the case, commented that “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.”
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.
Top Image: Aerial view of damage to Withybrook scheduled monument – photo courtesy Historic England