Maryam Halcrow and Angela Grace, identifying as Witches, and Lisa Mead, identifying as a Druid, were found guilty of entering the site without reasonable excuse and received 6-month conditional discharges. Their appeal against the sentencing has now been rejected.
Halcrow and Mead had approached the stones in February 2018 as part of a protest organised by the Free Stonehenge group, and along with Grace, again breached the restrictions on May 4th in the same year, jumping a rope cordon which is in place by English Heritage around the stone circle. Mead also tried to encourage tourists to cross the rope barrier.
It should be stressed that the women did not damage the stones, nor did they attempt to do so, and nor did anyone else from the protest group. They spent most of their time in the circle either in silent worship, sitting on the ground, or talking to personnel from English Heritage.
Lisa Mead said at the time: “I went into Stonehenge for the first time when I was 16 and I felt the subtle earth energies. Then I learned how you can heal people with these subtle earth energies. My message to English Heritage is to stop exploiting Stonehenge as a cash cow. They’ve got no regard to our spiritual beliefs and practices. It’s just profit, profit, profit.”
In the original case, Kate Davies, English Heritage’s Director of Stonehenge, responded: “We are pleased with the court’s guilty verdict. The Stonehenge Regulations (1997) exist to protect Stonehenge now and for future generations to enjoy. As guardians of the monument, an employer and host to more than a million visitors from around the world each year, we cannot stand by and allow people to put the monument or people at risk at Stonehenge. We appreciate that Stonehenge has spiritual significance for many people. That is why we work with pagan and druid groups throughout the year to facilitate opportunities for access for ceremonies and access at and around the time of solstices and equinoxes.”
The women appealed their conviction to the Crown Court, claiming that they had a reasonable excuse for their actions under the European Convention on Human Rights. They claimed that the regulations imposed by English Heritage contravened their rights to freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and freedom to protest.
Judge Crabtree, presiding, acknowledged that the regulations impacted the women’s human rights. However, he deemed that the restrictions were proportionate, pointing out that English Heritage offers free access into Stonehenge on four days a year and allows paid access for pre-booked groups of up to 30 before and after opening hours. British Druidic groups are allowed to book the stone circle for rituals (and will be doing so as we approach the Winter Solstice next week), and the circle can also be used for handfastings.
Judge Crabtree said: “The restriction serves to protect the very essence of the monument for current and future generations by strictly controlling access into the stone circle.”
Although he rejected the appeal, he did not impose any costs on the women, who are on benefits.
Responding, Mead acknowledged that she could use Avebury (which is an open stone circle encompassing the village of the same name) for the same purposes of worship and healing. Halcrow says that Avebury and other stone circles were “like substations while Stonehenge was the power station.”
In the initial case, Judge Cooper is reported as saying that, “I have heard descriptions of the Solstice events and I can quite understand Miss Halcrow’s evidence that for her they were terrifying. They certainly destroy the sense of spirituality for those who wish to worship.”
He added that he felt moved by the women’s descriptions of their beliefs, saying that they were ‘touching and genuinely held.’
There is a case to be made for keeping Stonehenge roped off. It has been known for visitors to try to chip bits off the stones, although there is no evidence than anyone identifying as pagan has done so. English Heritage is, in the main, sympathetic to Druidic groups who wish to use the stones for the purposes of worship. Thousands of visitors come to the stone circle every year and 15,000 or more attend celebrations at the summer solstice, in particular.
However, it is not simply the stones themselves that require protection, English Heritage believes. The old stones are home to many different varieties of lichen.
Chris Bally, Landscape Manager at Stonehenge, explained some years ago that:
Seventy-seven different species of lichen have been identified on the stones. Stonehenge is, therefore, of national importance. If you look carefully, you will see that, on many of the stones, the fruticose growth on the lichens does not start growing until about six feet off the ground. This has been caused by visitors touching the stones.
He also pointed out a patch of yellow lichen that is growing in a pronounced ‘DI’ formation. “Back in the mid-sixties, when the site was unsupervised, the stones were vandalised when someone sprayed ‘Radio Caroline’ across them. Various solutions were tried to remove the graffiti and, whatever was used to remove the D and I from [the word] radio, this particular variety of lichen seems to thrive on it!”
The relationship between English Heritage and Britain’s pagan community continues to be a dynamic one and it is to be hoped that this relationship can now move forward in as positive a way as possible.