In the Media

Prehistoric monument filled in with rubble after businessman owner tried to keep it tidy

PUBLISHED October 28, 2012

When a retired businessman bought one of Britain's most important prehistoric monuments as a pension investment, he plainly felt a responsibility to keep it looking nice.

But Roger Penny, 73, found himself in court after contractors he asked to "tidy" up a 5,000-year-old earthwork ring filled in historically-important holes with rubble.

Mr Penny, a retired plant-hire manager, was found to have caused serious damage to the Somerset monument, known as Priddy Circles, as a judge warned him "significant archaeological information" could have been lost.

He has now admitted causing or permitting the works without proper consent, and has been ordered to pay £10,000 in a fine and court costs.

Mr Penny, described as a man of "impeccable character", has also pledged to pay around £38,000 for restoration work to the monument after appearing at Taunton Crown Court.

David Maunder, prosecuting, told the court the "internationally significant" circles are "one of the country's most important prehistoric monuments", as the Recorder said archaeological evidence was "significantly diminished" by the damage.

The court heard Mr Penny bought a former hunt stables and house as an investment, with adjoining land including the southernmost Priddy Circle.

The ring, which dates back to 3,000BC, was built around the same time as Stonehenge and is designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

The appellation means English Heritage must be consulted before building or renovation work is carried out.

Instead, Mr Penny instructed two contractors to "tidy" and renovate the area, so he could eventually let it out for profit.

The court heard one of the hired firms used rubble to fill important "swallet" holes in the ring; described as natural cavities which may have been key to the monument's creation.

The workers also cleared gorse and bracken between April and October 2011, bringing rubble into the field to help rebuild a wall and moving a gate.

In doing so, the court heard, ruts were made in the ground inside the circle by agricultural machinery. The damage included the destruction of a circular ditch said to be completely bulldozed.

Mr Penny was aware the ring was scheduled and told the contractors not to touch it, but because part of the site is not visible to the naked eye "serious damage" was caused.

English Heritage was not consulted about the size of the monument and was not able to grant permission or give advice about how to carry out the work.

It has now successfully prosecuted Mr Penny, from Chewton Mendip, Somerset, who will pay to attempt to restore the damaged monument.

Mr Maunder, prosecuting, said: "These circles are regarded as among a small group of the country's most important prehistoric monuments, with enormous potential to inform us about the Neolithic period, and in archaeological terms are internationally significant."

Charles Rowe, defending, added his client was a man of "impeccable character"' who deeply regretted what had happened.

Recorder Jeremy Wright told Mr Penny: "Although the part you bought might not have been visually spectacular, common sense would have told you that the land inside the circle was also important.

"Your actions may have meant that significant archaeological information has been lost.

"Although some evidence may be available, it's significance and value has been significantly diminished by the damage you have done."

An English Heritage spokeswoman described the damage as a "major incident", adding the structure was one of only about 80 henges in England.

She said the loss of the fabric to the henge meant a "really, really rare piece of Neolithic engineering had been lost forever".

"The outcome of this case sends out a clear message that English Heritage can and will prosecute in cases of serious damage and unauthorised works to Scheduled Monuments," she added.

"The defendant and the court have recognised the great importance of these sites and the serious nature of this offence. The outcome reflects the substantial penalty offenders may expect to receive if convicted.

"The court has also recognised the importance of mitigating the impact to this damaged site. This will give back to the monument some of what has been lost."