Many people feel the Priddy decision was about right. We’re less certain. £48,000 is not a lot for a top-of-the-scale heritage crime committed by someone wealthy enough to afford to pay a lot more. “More” would have had two useful effects: it would have provided a stronger deterrent for others and it would have established a high “top tariff”, thereby stiffening penalties for lesser heritage crimes. So why wasn’t it higher? We weren’t there so can’t know for sure but there may be clues in the press reports:
Evidently Mr Penny’s barrister wanted the hearing adjourned for six-months until restoration had begun. Was that because (as someone on BAJR forum suggested) he felt the penalty would be lower once less damage was visible? It seems plausible. Mr Maunder, representing English Heritage, countered that the matter shouldn’t be dealt with on the defendant’s terms but he did propose that the work be done or supervised using Mr Penny’s resources “under the eye of English Heritage”.
Was that the point when Mr Penny got lucky? For although the idea of “restoration” was quickly abandoned in favour of a research project, the principle of him paying for the work was retained. Thus, when the scope and cost of the intended work was reduced, so did his contribution, meaning that the punishment was no longer fitted to the crime but to the scale of the research project.
What a shame the research project wasn’t far more expensive – or that it couldn’t have been expanded beyond the excavation of a filled swallet hole to embrace all the other Priddy circles and indeed the nearby monuments thought to be associated with them – the Priddy nine barrows and Ashen hill barrow cemeteries. That way, perhaps, far more could be learned, a much greater deterrent could have been established and everyone except the culprit would have benefitted. Mr Penny and his advisors, who already had zero cards to play, could hardly complain that he was being asked to pay for research on places he hadn’t damaged – for how could they deny that the only way to learn about something he had destroyed without trace was to look elsewhere? How else could Mr Penny achieve his obvious wish to make amends?