So, we now know how it went….
“You’ve been a bit naughty”
“Mea Culpa guv. It was an honest mistake, I cocked up. Sorry?”
“Fair enough, but we’ll have to give you a slap on the wrist, for appearances sake.”
“What say £38 grand to make things right?”
(Thinks – “you have been, me old mate!”)
Ok, so it probably didn’t go like that, much. But we can’t help thinking that a fine of £2500 for destroying a unique Neolithic monument is a joke. (Someone recently got a £2,600 fine for installing uPVC windows in a listed farmhouse!). Granted, the final cost could be as much as £48,000, but when you own a string of racehorses and a large construction plant company with a turnover of £6.8 million it’s probably small change. (And note, demolishing a house in a conservation area in the posh Borough of Richmond gets you an £80,000 fine plus £42,500 costs and doing the same in Fulham gets you a £120,000 fine.)
So let’s consider. You buy a plot of land, with stabling, and have an interest in racehorses. There’s a nice large field, but it has some pesky archaeology and natural geological features in it that could potentially be dangerous to the horses. To get anything ‘done’ will involve months of paperwork and the end result may still be you can’t use the field in the way you’d like. So, as is now well known, Mr Penny instructed some workmen to ‘tidy up’ some gorse and scrub on his land despite having been instructed by his solicitor that the circles were there, and protected and although he now says he told them not to go near the henge they bulldozed part of it into oblivion.
English Heritage has said it is “very pleased” he has ‘agreed’ to pay £38000 for them to mull over the remains of his handiwork. Some people might think (and maybe EH are too diplomatic to say!) he has got away lightly through his magnanimous gesture. It’s worth remembering, as well, that since his digger has been seen working at Stonehenge (presumably hired by the contractors engaged by EH) he’s effectively only giving them some of their own money back! So we suspect that he’ll be very pleased with the outcome himself whereas no-one else should be. On the basis of this case and others there are two lessons being sent to potential vandals: always offer to pay a voluntary amount and always target something prehistoric not Georgian and a henge not a house and unique not commonplace and irreplaceable not the reverse!
It’s water under the bridge now but if Mr Penny wanted to demonstrate true remorse he could always move on from the damage-limitation ploys of his legal advisers and hand English Heritage say another quarter of a million pounds (the value of about one and a half of his many bulldozers) for use on general heritage preservation so as to dispel the feeling that he has rather got away with just about the worst heritage crime anyone can think of.