Shaftesbury Abbey's war memorial 'illegal'

The Monument in Abbey Walk, outside the ruins
Image caption The town council had been told it did not need planning permission, councillor Lester Dibben said

A council committed a "criminal offence" when it erected a war memorial near the ruins of an ancient abbey.

The 6ft (1.8m) Portland Stone monument was put up in June within the area of Shaftesbury Abbey - designated as an ancient scheduled monument.

English Heritage said the "unauthorised work" amounted to a "criminal offence" as it was carried out without consent.

It has asked Shaftesbury Town Council, which owns the land it is on, to move the monument. Negotiations are ongoing.

Councillor Lester Dibben, who was involved with the memorial project, said the town council had asked North Dorset District Council back in 2010 whether the monument in Abbey Walk needed planning permission - but had been told it did not.

North Dorset District Council is yet to comment.

'We didn't realise'

With regard to plans to move the monument, Mr Dibben said: "I feel really sad for the servicemen and their families."

Councillor Mick Hicks said the memorial was dedicated to all the local men who had died serving their country during - and since - World War II.

It features the cap badges of regiments, including the Devonshire and Dorset, which later merged into The Rifles.

He said: "We're a bit worried. We have in theory committed a criminal act, unwittingly.

"I don't think we realised that."

The site of the scheduled monument extends around the visible ruins of the old abbey, which means the memorial has been erected on protected land, a spokesman for English Heritage said.

She said its officials had had "constructive discussions" with the town council, which was looking at options for moving the memorial.

Under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, it is a criminal offence to carry out works to a scheduled monument without consent from the secretary of state, the spokesman said.

"English Heritage is taking this matter seriously, but our focus is on achieving a negotiated solution," he added.

"There is no facility under the 1979 act for the secretary of state to issue retrospective scheduled monument consent and so the matter of unauthorised works and criminal offence stands until the situation is satisfactorily resolved."

Shaftesbury Abbey was founded by Alfred the Great in AD888 and his daughter Aethelgiva was the first abbess there.

Only the excavated ruins of the abbey church remain today within a walled garden, now home to the Shaftesbury Abbey Museum.

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