Destruction of Offa’s Dyke an insult to the English

Our Heritage Bulldozed

by Dick Franklin

Offa`s Dyke is a large earthwork in the form of a ditch and defensive earth wall, more or less running the entire length of the border between England and Wales. In the 8th century it formed a delimitation between the Welsh Kingdom of Powys and the Anglian Kingdom of Mercia.

Opinions vary. Some academics feel that it was intended to be defensive, by keeping the Welsh in or out (depending on your point of view) with troops stationed at various points. The more common view was that it was symbolic. It was probably built between the years 757 to 796 by order of King Offa, who was one of the great rulers of Anglo-Saxon times. There are some authorities who hold that it may have been older than this and was built by a succession of Mercian rulers. Either way it would have been a massive undertaking, as it would all have been done with spades, shovels and wheelbarrows.

A 50 yard length of the Dyke was recently bulldozed by one Danny, who describes himself as a “traveller”. He claimed he wanted to build a stable on the site. Although he owned the land, this Danny had absolutely no right to destroy this part of an ancient monument. It is also a World Heritage site, ranked along with the Pyramids and Stonehenge. After a superficial investigation, the police declined to take any action on the grounds that Danny had never heard of Offa`s Dyke [despite ignorance of the law being no defence].

I accept that this monument may not be as well known as some others. However, whether or not this ignoramus was aware of this heritage site is clearly open to question. When he bought the land the deeds would have shown that the Dyke ran through it. Nothing can be done to restore the damage that has been done to our forebears’ work. However, at the very least the site should be reinstated to its former appearance and Danny should be charged for it.

I would go further. If this person is not prepared to respect this ancient monument, he should be dispossessed of the land on which it stands. National Heritage, which is responsible for such sites, needs to be far more proactive in protecting them and should be given the proper powers it needs to do this. Ancient monuments remind us of who we are. They are part of us and must be protected at all costs. Patria will see this is done.

This post was written by

9 Comments on "Destruction of Offa’s Dyke an insult to the English"

  • Andrew says

    Allowed to bulldoze Offa’s Dyke… because he claimed he didn’t know it was there!

    The traveller known as ‘Danny’ came up with the excuse when he flattened 50 yards of the World Heritage site

    Jun 04, 2014

    By WalesOnline

    A traveller who destroyed part of one of Britain’s most important ancient monuments has escaped being prosecuted – because he claimed he didn’t know it existed.

    A 45-metre section of the world famous Offa’s Dyke marking the 1,200-year-old boundary between England and Wales was flattened by the traveller known as “Danny”.

    But he won’t be prosecuted – because police couldn’t prove he knew what Offa’s Dyke was.

    The earthwork on the Welsh border is a World Heritage site listed alongside the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal.

    But police admitted today that they had “insufficient evidence” to prove it was deliberately damaged by the traveller landowner who had lived in the area all his life.

    Horrified experts said the bulldozing of a 45-metre (50-yard) preserved section of the dyke to build a stables was like “driving a road through Stonehenge”.

    Jim Saunders of the Offa’s Dyke Association said: “An example needs to be made.

    “If other landowners see someone getting away with it then they will be encouraged to do the same.

    “This is the worst damage I have seen done for 25 years. A 50-yard section has been cut away and completely destroyed.

    “It can never be put back as it was. Even if you were to rebuild it you couldn’t say it was Offa’s Dyke.”

    The 8th century monument consists of a wide ditch and rampart which runs for 82 miles along the border between England and Wales.

    It is believed King Offa of Mercia built large sections of it between 757 and 796 to mark the division between his kingdom and Wales to protect his land from invasion.

    It is a criminal offence to disrupt or damage the dyke, which is designated a “scheduled ancient monument” because of its historical significance.

    Anyone caught doing so can be punished with six months in jail or a £5,000 fine. [It would appear this is now a dead letter.]

    The dyke attracts up to 15,000 visitors a week during the summer – with walkers coming from all over Europe.

    But at the time of the damage last August, the landowner said he had “no idea” the area was of national historic importance.

    The man, who gave his name only as Danny, claimed: “I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never heard of Offa’s Dyke.

    “We bought this from a bloke next door and want to put stables on it.

    “Nobody said anything to us about a historic monument, it wasn’t mentioned.”

    The well-preserved section of the dyke was on privately owned land between Chirk and Llangollen.

    But after a nine-month inquiry, police have admitted no further action would be taken.

    North Wales Police spokesman Kevin Evans said: “In August 2013 North Wales Police received a complaint that a section of the Offa’s Dyke earthworks in Chirk near Wrexham has been deliberately damaged.

    “An investigation by Wrexham CID commenced resulting in a local man being interviewed under caution in connection with the matter.

    “As a result of the investigation there was insufficient evidence to prove any criminal offence and the matter is no longer being investigated by North Wales Police.”

    He added: “You have to prove not just the act but whether there was criminal intent and knowledge that it would be a criminal act.” [But ignorance of the law is no defence – for the obvious reason that every malefactor would plead it if brought to trial. To quote the jurisconsult Selden ‘Ignorance of the law excuses no man. Every man must be taken to know the Law: to hold the contrary would be to confer a premium on ignorance, which would afford a defence to every possible transgression of the Law.’]

    Wales News Service


    It took the police and/or the (no doubt heavily infiltrated) CPS nine months to decide to…do nothing.

    However, in principle, a private criminal prosecution is still possible for up to six years from the date of the alleged offence.

    Furthermore, simply because shamefully no public prosecution has yet been authorized, it does not follow that Wrexham council should permit the building of stables, or any other structure, to proceed on the site of the unlawfully demolished historic monument.

    In fact, for the council to grant planning permission retrospectively for stables to be built would be to reward wrongdoing and to issue a standing invitation to other rogue landowners to emulate Danny.

    Incidentally, isn’t ‘a traveller landowner who has lived in the area all of his life’ an oxymoron? Or perhaps just a moron.

    As Dick rightly says, our ancient monuments remind us of who we are and are a part of us – when they are literally bulldozed we are, as a people, figuratively bulldozed.

    Patria will strengthen the existing sanctions of the criminal law and give English Heritage and Cadw, its Welsh opposite number, the resources and legal powers to initiate rigorous criminal prosecutions of those who despoil us and future generations of our people of our glorious historic heritage.

  • Tom says

    I would just like to clarify what I believe to be the legal position in this. It is true there is the principle of “ignorantia justita nil excusat”(ignorance of the law is no excuse). This has come down to us from Roman times when laws were far simpler. It was felt that if everyone could plead ignorance, then the state would be ungovernable. So the presumption was that everyone was under a duty to know the law.

    However in modern society this is not the case. Much of our common (unwritten) law has now become statute law and much of that is in reams of statutory instruments. In addition there is much judge made law and the notorious European Court.

    In this particular case the relevant law is contained in Section 28 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. This makes it a criminal offence to damage an ancient monument if (a) their was knowledge that it was a protected monument and (b) their was guilty intent.

    In this case the police seem to have accepted the excuse at face value that Danny did not know it was a protected monument and left the matter there.

    It is my contention that with the diligence they have used in other cases, such as the persecution of nationalists, the police could have brought a successful prosecution.

    In the absence of this, it is still open to the body with guardianship of this ancient monument to reinstate the site and seek recompense from the transgressor.

    I agree strongly with Andrew, that the authorities need far stronger powers to safeguard these sites, not only for ourselves but for those who come after us.

    • Andrew says

      Tom, thanks for citing the relevant statute.

      However, I’m afraid that I must take issue with you over the question of whether the principle of ‘ignorantia juris non excusat’, or in English, ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’, still applies in our contemporary society.

      While you are right that there is regrettably a superfluous superabundance of statutes and secondary legislation, of which no one, not even a professional lawyer, can reasonably be expected to be familiar with more than a fraction, this does not invalidate the principle that everyone must nonetheless be presumed to know the law.

      It really comes down to common sense. One knows what kinds of act are likely to be prohibited by law. If one contemplates performing such an act then one has a duty to look more deeply into the question of whether it would indeed be contrary to law, if necessary by seeking legal advice from a suitably qualified professional.

      It is easy to see that any other approach than that of treating everyone as if they were aware of the law which they are suspected of having transgressed would result in many laws rapidly becoming null and void, as a direct result of their unenforceability.

      We may be seeing the beginning of such a general breakdown, or the equally undesirable selective rather than uniform application of the law – depending on whether the suspect can plausibly lay claim to some sort of privileged ‘minority’ status.

      Naturally, I agree with you that if the authorities had exercised due diligence in the case in question then a successful prosecution would probably have ensued.

      I also agree that English Heritage should do its utmost to restore the site to its status quo ante and bill Danny for the full cost of the landscaping.

      Finally, I quote from the Wikipedia article on the 1979 Act.

      “The Act also provides for taking monuments into the care of the Secretary of State – the concept of ‘guardianship’ where a monument remains in private ownership but the monument is cared for and (usually) opened to the public by the relevant national heritage body.”

      I suggest that what remains of Offa’s Dyke be taken into guardianship before any other ‘Dannys’ realize just how much of an ass the law has become.

  • Tom says

    I am not disagreeing with your general point Andrew as regards ignorance of the law is no excuse,It is certainly a principle in Common Law – that is law which has been passed down to us over the centuries.

    What I am saying is that much of the Common Law has been superseded by Statute Law, Judge made law and rulings of the European Court where these are adopted by Parliament or adhered to by government. Once upon a time theft would have been an offence under Common Law. Now it is an offence under the Theft Act. So if you stole something, you would be charged under that Act. Under these conditions, the miscreant would be judged solely on the wording and any precedents set under the relevant Act. Common Law would not enter into it..

    Most Common Law was based on common sense. We all know it is wrong to kill, steal, rape etc. Unfortunately Parliament could not resist getting its sticky little hands on it. By contrast Common Law gave judges far more discretion to deal with the cases and they could generally award sentences as they saw fit. Now they are constrained by the limitations of Statute.

    • Andrew says

      My point, Tom, was that the principle that ignorance of the law is no defence still applies not only to English Common Law but also to statute law, EU regulations, etc and is not restricted in its scope of application solely to common law.

      In most individuals’ everyday lives they are unlikely to violate the law without being aware of it. It is in the nature of laws that in order to be effective they must be brought to the attention of those whom they are likely to affect and must also be enforced. That is why a plea of ignorance (“I had no idea that selling forged birth certificates was against the law, your Honour”) cannot be accepted (“Well, you do now” might be the judge’s reply).

  • Tom says

    I am reluctant to continue this argument which may be becoming tedious to readers. So these will be my last words on the matter. The law and its interpretation is extremely complex and I think this debate is in danger of being just that.

    1.To quote one authority ” No attorney is bound to know all the law. God forbid that it should be imagined that an attorney, or a counsel or even a judge is bound to know all the law” (Justice Abbott).

    2. The principle of “ignorance” was generally excluded from the Civil Law which was administered by the Judges. The exception being murder which is still a crime at Common Law although there are all sorts statutes which define and codify it and tie the hands of judges in the sentencing of such crimes.

    3. It appears that no one is quite sure how many extant laws there are. Most figures I have seen are estimates. However to provide an idea, between 1983 – 2009 there were over 100 Criminal Justice bills alone giving rise to over 4000 new offences. The number of Statutory Instruments issued (regulations made under Acts of Parliament) now stands at around 4000 per year. Not even the sharpest legal mind in the land could possibly be aware of all these so we are all ignorant.

    4. In the forgery of birth certificates which Andrew mentioned, this would come under The Forgery & Counterfeit Act of 1981. The whole tenor of the act is that acts must be done “with intent” and it would require the Crown to prove this to gain a conviction. It is possible that someone with full knowledge of the act may make a forgery under the direction of another. Hence their ignorance would be an excuse.

    • Andrew says

      Tom, I am confident that you modestly underestimate the interest of our discussion to Patria’s numerous readers, not only in Britain but world-wide.

      Law can be a complex subject, civil law more so than criminal, though it is not beyond the wit of an intelligent layman to master. Many suspect that lawyers go out of their way to make it appear to be more complex than it actually is, in order to charge higher fees than they would otherwise be able to justify.

      Not wishing to give offence to members of the legal profession, I reserve judgement on this.

      There is an interesting article on Ignorantia juris non excusat in Wikipedia which I believe clarifies certain of the points at issue in our, one hopes, good-natured discussion. Rather than provide a link I have preferred to copy the article here for the benefit of our many readers.

      While Wikipedia should not be relied on uncritically, I have often found its articles very helpful.

      I hope I may be forgiven for making the obvious point that the principle which ‘ignorantia non excusat’ expresses remains an important guiding principle in Roman as well as English law in general. Roman law, of course, being that used by both the European Court of Justice, sometimes referred to simply as ‘the European Court’, which is a part of the EU machinery and the European Court of Human Rights which is not.

      Ignorantia non excusat

      Ignorantia juris non excusat or ignorantia legis neminem excusat (Latin for “ignorance of the law does not excuse” or “ignorance of the law excuses no one”) is a legal principle holding that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because he or she was unaware of its content. In the United States, exceptions to this general rule are found in cases such as Lambert v. California (knowledge of city ordinances) and Cheek v. United States (willfulness requirement in U.S. federal tax crimes).

      European-law countries with a tradition of Roman law may also use an expression from Aristotle translated into Latin: nemo censetur ignorare legem (nobody is thought to be ignorant of the law) or ignorantia iuris nocet (not knowing the law is harmful).


      The rationale of the doctrine is that if ignorance were an excuse, a person charged with criminal offenses or a subject of a civil lawsuit would merely claim that he or she is unaware of the law in question to avoid liability, even though the person really does know what the law in question is. Thus, the law imputes knowledge of all laws to all persons within the jurisdiction no matter how transiently. Even though it would be impossible, even for someone with substantial legal training, to be aware of every law in operation in every aspect of a state’s activities, this is the price paid to ensure that willful blindness cannot become the basis of exculpation [Emphasis added]. Thus, it is well settled that persons engaged in any undertakings outside what is common for a normal person, such as running a nuclear power plant, will make themselves aware of the laws necessary to engage in that undertaking. If they do not, they cannot complain if they incur liability.

      The doctrine assumes that the law in question has been properly published and distributed, for example, by being printed in a government gazette, made available over the internet, or printed in volumes available for sale to the public at affordable prices.

      In the criminal law, although ignorance may not clear a defendant of guilt, it can be a consideration in sentencing, particularly where the law is unclear or the defendant sought advice from law enforcement or regulatory officials. For example, in one Canadian case, a person was charged with being in possession of gambling devices after they had been advised by customs officials that it was legal to import such devices into Canada. Although the defendant was convicted, the sentence was an absolute discharge.

      In addition, there were, particularly in the days before satellite communication and cellular phones, persons who could genuinely be ignorant of the law due to distance or isolation. For example, in a case in British Columbia, a pair of hunters were acquitted of game offenses where the law was changed during the period they were in the wilderness hunting. In reaching this decision, the court refused to follow an early English law case in which a seaman on a clipper before the invention of radio was convicted even though the law had been changed while he was at sea (Bailey (1800) Russ & Ry 1).

      An alternate explanation of the origin of the maxim, though not particularly relevant to the modern context, can be found with the philosophy of the Greeks and Romans. These were cultures heavily influenced by customary legal systems. Within such a system, law is learned as a person participates in the culture and customs of the community. Thus it is unreasonable to believe a person could have avoided learning them. These rules and customs were also interwoven with ethical and religious dialog so that laws expressed what is right and good and deviation that which is not. We find that Cicero wrote the following in De re publica (On the Republic):

      “There is a true law, right reason, agreeable to nature, known to all men, constant and eternal, which calls to duty by its precepts, deters from evil by its prohibition. This law cannot be departed from without guilt. Nor is there one law at Rome and another at Athens, one thing now and another afterward; but the same law, unchanging and eternal, binds all races of man and all times.”

      Plato wrote similarly in Minos:

      “What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. And isn’t this believed by everyone … even among the Persians, and always? … What is fine, no doubt, is everywhere legislated as fine, and what is shameful as shameful; but not the shameful as fine or the fine as shameful.”

      An unintended consequence of believing in the legal maxim gives everyone lawyer status by proxy whether or not they have any knowledge of law, hence the parody, “Everything about law I learned from one legal maxim”.


      Presumed knowledge of the law is the principle in jurisprudence that one is bound by a law even if one does not know of it. It has also been defined as the “prohibition of ignorance of the law”.

      The concept comes from Roman law, and is expressed in the brocard ignorantia legis non excusat.

      The essential public character of a law requires that the law must apply to anyone in the jurisdiction where the law applies. Thus, no one can justify his conduct on the grounds that he was not aware of the law [Emphasis added].

      Generally, a convention exists by which the laws are issued and rendered accessible by methods, authors and means that are simple and well known: the law is readable in certain places (some systems prescribe that a collection of the laws is copied in every local city council), is made by certain authorities (usually sovereign, government, parliament, and derivative bodies), and enters into effect in certain ways (many systems for instance prescribe a certain number of days – often 15 – after issue). This is commonly intended as a constitutional regulation, and in fact many constitutions or statutes exactly describe the correct procedures.

      However, some recent interpretations weaken this concept. Particularly in civil law, regard can be had to the difficulty of being informed of the existence of a law considering the lifestyle of the average citizen. On the penal side, the quality of the knowledge of the law can affect the evaluation of the animus nocendi or the mens rea, in that certain subjective conditions can weaken personal responsibility.

      The theme was widely discussed, also for political reasons, at the time of the Enlightenment and in the 18th century, given the heavy proportion of illiterate citizens in European countries (who would have some difficulties being aware of all the laws in a country). It was then argued that both the presumed knowledge and the heavily increasing corpus of national legislation were working in favour of lawyers rather than citizens.

      In recent times, some authors have considered this concept as an extension of (or at least as analogous to) the other ancient concept (typical of criminal law) that no one can be punished under a law that was issued after the action was committed (non-retroactivity of the law. See ex post facto). This interpretation is however disputed, given that the matter would hierarchically more properly refer to a constitutional doctrine rather than to a civil or penal one.

      Some modern criminal statutes contain language such as stipulating that the act must be done “knowingly and wittingly” or “with unlawful intent,” [which would be tautologous] or some similar language.


  • john canning says

    it may very well be that Offa himself was just as much a desecrater of ancient monuments,
    when i was a child in the 1960,s my mother told me a story or irish invasions which resulted in the romans building the dykes, carbon dating recently would suggest this is true

    • Andrew says

      So, according to you, the Romans built Offa’s Dyke to protect the English from the marauding Irish?

      Are you a graduate of the Plaid Cymru school of history?

      Thanks for the comment.

Leave Your Comment