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
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
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
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
The guidelines will be available for consultation until 26