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Tougher sentences proposed

by
11 April 2014

by a staff reporter

Recognition: Matthew Cooper (right) was awarded the Exceptional Rural Initiative prize at the
Na­­tional Metal Theft Taskforce awards ceremony last month.
Mr Cooper, a church-maintenance support officer in the diocese of London, won the prize for his work in a similar post in the diocese of Lincoln. He supported an investigation into the theft of lead from church roofs by organ­ised criminals, all of whom were convicted (News, 21 December 2012)

Recognition: Matthew Cooper (right) was awarded the Exceptional Rural Initiative prize at the
Na­­tional Metal Theft Taskforce awards ceremony ...

THIEVES who remove plaques from war memorials will face tougher sentences from courts, under proposed new guidelines.

The Sentencing Council has produced new advice on how judges should deal with those convictedof thefts, and it highlights thefts from heritage buildings, including churches and war memorials. The draft guidelines say: "The impact of metal-thefts will be reflected at step one, as a key driver of the starting point, in the consideration of harm.

"Where, for example, 'disruption is caused to infrastructure' or there is 'damage to heritage structures' as a result of metal theft, the court should consider whether to increase the sentence either within the sentencing range or sentence outside the range."

The range of sentences for theft can vary from community orders to several years in prison, depending on the severity of the crime. In one example given by the Sentencing Council of 150 brass plaques stolen from a crematorium, the guidelines set out how the sentence could increase from a few months in prison to between one and four years.

In 2011, the rate of thefts from war memorials was running at three a week, the War Memorials Trust reported. The metal from plaques listing the dead is stripped off by thieves to be sold on or melted down. After a campaign to mark forensically the metal on war memorials, however, and the introduction last year of a Bill to regulate the operation of scrap-metal dealers, the number of thefts has dropped.

The Conservative MP Sir Richard Ottaway, who introduced the Private Member's Bill on scrap-metal dealers, said that it was beginning to make a difference, and in some areas, combined with robust policing, thefts were down by as much as 70 per cent.

"However, I doubt we will ever eradicate it completely," Sir Richard said, "and I welcome these tougher sentencing guidelines. The value of scrap metal to the thieves is £20 to £30, but their value to the community, and the emotional impact the theft has, is immense, and makes them priceless."

The heritage-underwriting director at the specialist insurance group Ecclesiastical, Paul Bloxham, said: "We welcome this proposal for new guidelines on tougher sentencing for criminals who damage our country's heritage. . .

"Thousands of our customers and the communities they serve [are] suffering because of the mindless activity of criminal gangs.

"Unfortunately, the sentences for the criminals damaging our heritage buildings and structures have often been far too lenient to deter them from similar activities in the future, and many of them commit their next crime only days or weeks after completing their previous sentence.

"The new guidelines are certainly another positive step in the fight against heritage crime; so we hope the proposal receives widespread support during the consultation process in the coming weeks."

The guidelines will be available for consultation until 26 June.

sentencingcouncil.judiciary.gov.uk

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