The unauthorised works were carried out at a listed building and scheduled monument - Ewhurst Manor, Shermanbury - which was once a moated aristocratic residence at the centre of a medieval manor. It contains important buried archaeological remains of the medieval period.
The building’s owner, Mr Lars Vestergaard, was convicted at Brighton Magistrates Court of carrying out unauthorised works at the property following a prosecution by Horsham District Council and Historic England. He was ordered to pay a fine of £22,000 and costs of £60,592.
Horsham Council said extensive unauthorised works were undertaken at Ewhurst Manor between September and November 2014. The works included “the wholesale stripping of the interior of the house and extensive excavation of the ground beneath the house,” said the council.
Mr Vestergaard was found to have commissioned the work without first obtaining Listed Building Consent and Scheduled Monument Consent. The unauthorised works were offences under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.
Horsham District Council obtained a High Court injunction to prevent Mr Vestergaard from undertaking any further work when it discovered what was going on.
Horsham Council cabinet member for planning and development Claire Vickers said: “The landowner in question knew that the site was protected as a listed building and a scheduled monument but did not apply for consent to do the works or seek specialist heritage advice prior to those works taking place. His actions caused severe harm to the heritage significance of the site.”
Paul Roberts, inspector of ancient monuments for Historic England in the south east, added:“The district judge found that the owner deliberately ignored legal requirements in order to cut corners and costs. In doing so he committed criminal offences and severely damaged a nationally important historic site.
“This judgement is a warning to others who might be tempted to disregard the law and risk harming our country’s heritage.”
Both organisations say they will now seek to work with the landowner to conserve what is left of Ewhurst Manor’s heritage and reinstate the damaged house as far as possible.