Robber gangs target UK war memorials

Heritage groups warn of rise in thefts of metal and statues from Britain's monuments to fallen soldiers

Britain's war memorials are being hit by a wave of thefts, with valuable bronze plaques being ripped off for scrap and commemorative statues stolen to order, according to heritage organisations.

Amid mounting concern at the scale of the problem, English Heritage has for the first time brought in a crime officer to head a campaign against the theft of Britain's architectural heritage. A detective chief inspector has been seconded to the organisation for two years and will start later this month.

The War Memorials Trust, working with English Heritage and Historic Scotland, is this week issuing guidance to every local authority in the UK on how to protect war monuments from thieves. Local councils are asked to audit all monuments in their area, and to install extra CCTV and lighting to deter thieves. The guidance warns: "As well as metal parts being sold for scrap, there is a black market for public art made from any material. Some war memorials with figurative sculpture were designed by leading artists and this makes them collectable items – some are being stolen to order for display in private homes."

Thieves will stop at nothing, according to Philip Davies, English Heritage's planning and development director: "Almost anything that is removable is vulnerable. It is not just statues and war memorials, but also things like York stone paving and street furniture – anything with potential resale value. The situation with war memorials is symptomatic of a wider problem of persistent theft from memorials across the country. It is basically the theft of local history that we're talking about here."

There are around 100,000 memorials in Britain, according to the Imperial War Museum. Many are in a state of disrepair and easy targets for thieves. A single bronze plaque can cost thousands of pounds to replace; stone statues tens of thousands. A bronze statue weighing 1.5 tonnes, part of the South African War Memorial in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, was hacked from its plinth and stolen just two days after Remembrance Sunday in 2006. It took two years to raise £50,000 from public donations to replace it.

The national impact of such thefts is difficult to discern as statistics are not routinely recorded. But an analysis of data from the National Inventory of War Memorials reveals that thefts have increased sharply, from 18 throughout the 1980s to 44 since 2000.

Several large bronze plaques were stolen from Broomfield Park Garden of Remembrance in Palmers Green, north London, last August. And in October, an "eternal light" was stolen from Hawarden Cenotaph in north Wales, the third time in recent months that lighting around the memorial has been smashed or stolen. This January two large brass plaques, featuring the names of men who died in the Second World War, were stolen from a memorial in Pensnett High Street, near Dudley. Earlier this month thieves climbed more than 50 feet to strip bare the copper roofing of the Barr Beacon war memorial in Birmingham.

Frances Moreton, the director of the War Memorials Trust, said: "In recent years the trust has been contacted about an increasing number of cases of theft. It is a real concern; that's the reason we've created the advice. War memorials symbolise the sacrifice of so many people and are our touchstones to history."

A Desecration of War Memorials Bill introduced in the Commons last month proposes that those who desecrate memorials should face up to 10 years in prison. The Bill was introduced, with cross-party support, by Enfield's Tory MP David Burrowes. He said it is unacceptable that war memorials have no specific legal protection: "People need to look out for war memorials in their area and make sure they are registered with the national inventory at the Imperial War Museum so that we can protect them."

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam