War memorial vandals to face tougher sentences as judges and magistrates get new powers

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VANDALS caught damaging war memorials and gravestones will face harsher sentences – and possibly jail time – under new powers being handed to magistrates and judges. 

The new guidelines are geared at considering the full impact of the crimes on the wider community, as well as their financial cost.

The shadow of a Royal Navy rating falls on the names on one of the panels on the Portsmouth Naval memorial in Southsea. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

The shadow of a Royal Navy rating falls on the names on one of the panels on the Portsmouth Naval memorial in Southsea. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

When they come in on October 1, courts will also be asked to consider the impact of public services when important buildings like railway stations and schools are damaged by fire and vandalism. 

Strains on the emergency services will also be assessed where resources have to be diverted from other incidents and damage to listed buildings and historic objects could lead to tougher sentences for re-offenders. 

The announcement from the Sentencing Council comes after louts daubed the Portsmouth Naval Memorial on Southsea Common with red graffiti last month, just days after commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day ended.

The Guildhall Square Cenotaph honouring those lost in the First and Second World Wars has also been targeted multiple times.

Welcoming the new guidelines Mark Harrison, head of heritage crime strategy for Historic England, said: ‘Damage to our heritage comes in many forms.

‘Whether it be graffiti painted on the walls of a historic church, vandalism to the stonework of an ancient castle or causing a fire that devastates a Medieval barn or Victorian pier; these offences have a detrimental impact on both the historic property or site and the local community in which it is located.

‘The new guidelines will help the courts identify all the relevant factors to include in their sentencing decisions as they will now be able to consider ‘threats to cause criminal damage’, ‘the act of damage’ and ‘damage by fire’.’

The new guidelines cover the following offences: 

- Arson – criminal damage by fire

- Criminal damage / arson with intent to endanger life or being reckless as to whether life endangered

- Criminal damage where the damage has a value exceeding £5000

- Criminal damage where the damage has a value not exceeding £5000

- Racially or religiously aggravated criminal damage

- Threats to destroy or damage property