Public outcry at memorial plaque thefts

Issue 492

Nearly 170 memorial plaques were stolen from the grounds of a Mirfield church last weekend in a crime that left the community sickened.
Callous thieves went into a garden of remembrance at St Mary's Church in Church Lane overnight last Friday and ripped the precious plaques off a low wall.
Parishioners were stunned when told at a church service on Sunday about the crime. It also caused universal revulsion around Mirfield.
The plaques were recovered on Wednesday afternoon when police were called by staff at Ossett scrap dealers Eric France & Son.
The plaques, 169 in total, are copper and were taken for their scrap value. Most were old and of a purer, more valuable, metal than newer versions.
Sadly they are damaged beyond repair, having been first bent in the process of being crowbarred off the wall. Grinding tools were then used to file off some of the inscriptions in a bid to disguise what they were, while others were folded in half with a hammer.
Each plaque cost families up to £150, meaning a potential loss of £24,000. They weigh about 250g each (45kg in total).
Two local men, aged 26 and 37, were arrested over the theft on Sunday and Monday respectively. Both are now on bail pending further inquiries.
Police searched for the plaques as part of a wider crackdown on scrap dealers launched in the wake of the theft.
A resident, who did not want to be named, said: “Elderly ladies arrived at church on Sunday to find plaques dedicated to their husbands had been stolen. There was a lot of upset.”
Rev Hugh Baker, priest in charge of the Mirfield Parish Team, added: “There were audible gasps around the church when we told parishoners on Sunday what had happened.
“People were truly sickened. They likened it to being kicked in the stomach. They feel like something really bad has been done here.
“The police have done a fantastic job. The arrests should be a deterrent to anyone else thinking of doing something like this.
“But we've mixed emotions. The plaques are indeed damaged beyond repair, meaning the families are still in the same position they were before.”
Rev Baker has urged any families with plaques in the memorial garden to get in touch about their future and the consideration of other alternatives.
Mirfield Town councillor David Pinder said: “This is an absolute obscenity.
“For some, the plaques could've been too expensive to replace. In other cases their details may have be lost altogether. Surviving relatives could've moved away or passed on themselves.
“The fault also lies with scrap dealers. It should be more difficult for people to turn up in an old van with half a war memorial in the back and sell it.
“Tougher regulations are needed and any scrap dealer found handling stolen metals should lose their licence.”
One disgusted Mirfield resident offered to help the church install CCTV cameras and then went, without success, around a few local scrap dealers.
Insp Jenny Thompson, of Kirklees Police's Dewsbury and Mirfield NPT, said: “The theft of so many memorial plaques is a particularly despicable crime.
“Officers have been carrying a large number of enquiries into the thefts, including visiting local scrap metal dealers.
“While we have arrested two men in connection with this incident, I am continuing to appeal for anyone with information to contact us.”
Anyone with information should call Kirklees Police on 0845 606 0606 or contact Crimestoppers in confidence on 0800 555 111.

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