Tougher sentences for thieves who attack war memorials are among a raft of new guidelines issued to magistrates today.
The crackdown, which involves the theft of all heritage or historic objects, was immediately welcomed by a group whose forces monument was vandalised last year.
“It’s a very good idea,” said Ron Drakeford, chairman of the Friends of Penwortham War Memorial. “We had to install a CCTV camera to protect our memorial after it was vandalised 18 months ago.
“I don’t know why people do it, apart from maybe stealing brass nameplates to weigh in for scrap. I don’t think they appreciate the distress it causes a community to have its war memorial attacked.”
Other types of theft, including electrical cables from railways - offences which could put the public in danger - will also attract harsher punishments under the review by the Sentencing Council.
The new measures mean that for the first time courts have a definitive guide on how to deal with all kinds of thefts including shoplifting, pickpocketing, handling stolen goods and abstracting electricity. Previously magistrates were only able to issue some sentences based on similar types of offences.
Theft is one of the most common sorts of crime in the UK, with more than 91,000 convicted last year.
Jill Gramann, a JP and member of the Sentencing Council, said theft crimes varied considerably. “They range from someone stealing from shops to fund an addiction to organised gangs stealing designer goods to order, or people diverting electricity to power a cannabis farm.
“The new guidelines will help judges and magistrates deal with this great variety of offences while ensuring that the harm caused to the victim is central to the sentencing decision.”
Mark Harrison, national policing and crime advisers for Historic England, added: “The impact of theft on our historic sites and buildings has far-reaching consequences over and above the financial cost of what has been stolen. When thieves steal metal from our heritage assets they are stealing from all of us and damaging something which is is often irreplaceable.”