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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Voices
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
voices
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living