Apart from their initial statement little has yet been said by English Heritage about the recent demolition of a section of one of the Priddy Circles. Hardly unreasonable since legal action is being contemplated. Still, for those who wonder exactly what will happen to the culprit there has been a bit of a clue recently in the Crown Court at Kingston upon Thames…
His Honour Judge Dodgson dealt with a man who had failed to apply for a conservation area consent before demolishing the whole of a large house when he was authorised to remove only part of it. His opening remark was “You remain standing, Mr Johnson” which was a heartening indication of how the Priddy vandal may be treated. But more to the point he discussed factors that he regarded as important in arriving at an appropriate sentence:
First, the financial benefit gained by the accused. It seems that after paying costs this would be zero in the Kingston case – which, usefully, might well be true of the Priddy Case also.
Second, the culpability of the accused. Here also it is possible that the Priddy culprit was not dissimilar to the Kingston one since the Judge said of the latter:
“…given your background and experience, it does seem to me extraordinary that you, at no stage, told the London Borough of Richmond what you were intending to do.
It may be that you weren’t aware of the particular requirements of conservation areas, but any person, one would have thought, would have had the sense to notify the planning authority of what was contemplated and would, at the very least, have told their neighbours of what was to happen.
It is quite clear to me that you were determined upon a course of action and you pressed ahead, either not caring or ignoring what you knew would be the understandable concern of others. It seems to me that your conduct in the context of offences of this nature is, indeed, highly culpable and the penalty must reflect that.”
Then there was the financial means of the accused. At Kingston the accused had paid a million pounds for the house he demolished – and the judge was told he had net assets well in excess of £250,000. It’s hard to be sure but the Priddy Vandal might well be in that sort of financial bracket or higher even. In Dorset you’d need lots of money to buy a farm (for instance).
So far then, the two cases seem similar in terms of arriving at a suitable punishment. But then the Judge had to consider a fourth factor – the harm that has resulted from the actions and here there’s a big difference. Here’s what the Judge said about the Kingston case:
“…it is suggested that the long-term harm is minimal. As I have said, I do accept that to the casual observer, it is likely that in a comparatively few years, the visual impact will be more or less as it was before your criminal act. But nothing will be able to alter the fact that what is there is a replica. Now, that harm is extremely difficult to quantify.
The point is made by Mr Davies in his witness statement; that if we can just rebuild replicas, then why not replace the National Gallery with a series of photographs? There is something intangible and incredibly valuable about our history. Parliament has legislated to try and preserve our history in a number of ways and any act that destroys something of the age of that building cannot be dismissed as being minimal. But I accept that having regard to what I assess to be the likely visual impact, as being in some years hardly discernible from what it was, then my conclusions on the question of harm is that the immediate harm has been considerable, but the long term harm may be categorised as being considerably less and, perhaps, fading, in the process of time to small.”
So at Kingston the immediate harm has been considerable, but the long term harm is said to be considerably less and, perhaps, fading, in the process of time to small. Not so at Priddy. There the harm will remain massive and forever.
In the end His Honour ruled that a custodial sentence was not warranted for the Kingston accused but he imposed a fine of £80,000 plus £42,500 costs and allowed three months to pay (with a sentence of two and a half years’ imprisonment in default of payment). So what might that tell us about Priddy? Well, if demolishing a house in a conservation area thereby causing a small amount of long term harm gets you a non-custodial sentence and an £80,000 fine then demolishing part of a unique and irreplaceable monument thereby causing massive harm forever gets you…
Fill in your own ending to the story (and then throw away the key!)
Where it was…