This weekend, like all of my Parliamentary colleagues, I will be attending Remembrance services in my constituency. It is a weekend when I feel honoured to be in a position to lead tributes in towns and villages in North West Leicestershire and remember those who gave their lives for our freedom.
War Memorials are a special part of our social fabric and through the length and breathe of our Country at this time of year, millions of people gather around them. Parents and grandparents explain to the next generation what they mean and point out the names of their forefathers who served and gave their lives for our freedom. However some people in our society choose to deprive communities of this opportunity by stealing War memorials and selling them for scrap metal. The War Memorial Trust estimates that every week one war memorial is being plundered for scrap. Not only are these people targeting war memorials but also places of worship. Ecclesiastical Insurance, the UK’s leading church insurer, has received more than 300 claims for theft of external metals from churches over the past 12 months.
It is not just the cost of replacing the materials that is the problem, thieves have also torn holes in roofs causing them to leak, and ripped stonework away from pinnacles and towers. The money thieves receive, is only a fraction of the cost of the damage they cause for the metal they steal.
For this reason, I am campaigning for the Government to introduce a harsher sentencing policy for those involved in the theft and handling of war memorials and metal from places of worship.
I believe we need to send out a very strong message that these crimes are not victimless crimes. they are in fact a crime against all of us, a crime against society, I believe that we need to demonstrate that, it is totally unacceptable to commit such crimes and if you are involved, you WILL go to prison. Communities work for years to fund war memorials and also to keep up the maintenance of places of worship. When they are stolen from and damaged it is left to the community in many cases to fund the replacement. In the case of war memorials it can be that the names and dedications on them are lost forever.
Communities need to know that those caught committing these crimes will be punished appropriately. In order to stamp out this crime a twofold approach is needed. Firstly, I back calls for an amendment to the Scrap Metal Merchants Act 1964 to prohibit cash transactions which would make payment bycheque or direct into a bank account mandatory. Whilst also dealing with benefit fraud and tax evasion, this would create an audit trail making it more difficult for thieves to sell-on stolen metal, something that costs the UK economy £700 million.
Secondly, I am calling for mandatory custodial sentences for those convicted of stealing metal from memorials and places of worship and also those convicted of handling the stolen metal. I believe both of these measures would send a clear signal to criminals that, as a society, we are not prepared to accept this abhorrent behaviour.
I am pleased that my campaign has received backing from the War Memorial Trust and the British Legion and many of my Parliamentary colleagues who have signed my Early Day Motion 2367. I have also started an e-petition.