Ancient site and criminality enthusiasts will know we’ve been casting our net for some weeks in order to find some legal precedents to aid the judge in his deliberations on what might be a suitable punishment for bulldozing part of the Priddy Henges. This week a decision was made about the demolition of a ring fort in Ireland that we’ve been waiting for so we now have a little list that might prove instructive.

Priddy: Spot the henge and win a prize! (Don’t bother!)    [Image credit – Heritage Action]

It seems that demolishing a house in a conservation area in the posh Borough of Richmond gets you an £80,000 fine and a suspended  2.5  year sentence. Doing the same in Fulham gets you a £120,000 fine.

Whereas (and who can deny this?) destroying older stuff doesn’t seem to get regarded with such horror. 90% of barrows have been ploughed out without a punishment. The ring fort destroyer in Ireland got fined only €25,000 (even though the maximum penalty available was a fine of €50,000 plus five years in prison).

And what of the other possible comparable for Priddy – the only other prehistoric multiple henge monument – the Thornborough Henges? Well, the report on 17 years of archaeological investigations of the now-quarried monumental landscape there has just been published by Mike Griffiths Associates and the introduction says While Nosterfield Quarry has resulted in the loss of the archaeological deposits discussed within this tome, it has paradoxically added significantly to our understanding of the archaeology and landscape of the wider area….”

Thus, for destroying much of the monumental landscape of Thornborough Henges the punishment for Tarmac was a multi-million pound profit PLUS a public pat on the head from their paid consultants for adding to archaeological knowledge!

So it seems – and don’t laugh – the Priddy vandal chose his target wisely. Since what he destroyed was prehistoric, not Georgian, and a henge not a house, and unique not commonplace, and irreplaceable not the reverse – the penalty for destroying it may well not be as high as many people expect (or hope). Daft, isn’t it?

It’s the system, and our illogical sense of values is it not? English Heritage’s Legal Department thought the fine for destroying the Richmond house was “a valuable precedent” – but it’s only that in respect to another house, not to poor Priddy. Indeed, the only way the Priddy vandal could expect a lower punishment for damaging it than he is likely to get would be if he had used his bulldozer to dig gravel out from all around it! That way he could have avoided any fine whatsoever, pocketed a fat profit and been praised for adding to archaeological knowledge!

Yes, that’s silly, it’s reductio ad absurdum – but actually it’s also the truth!