Thieves who target cultural property or items of great sentimental value could be hit with tougher sentences under official new proposals.
Draft guidelines introduced by the Sentencing Council on April 3
say that for the first time judges and magistrates should take into
account whether a theft caused "damage to heritage structures" when
calculating the starting point for a sentence. The examples given
included the theft of a bronze plaque from a war memorial or the
damage caused by stripping lead from a church roof.
The draft guidelines said: "The impact of metal thefts will be
reflected at step one. Where, for example, disruption is caused to
infrastructure [such as railways or the telephone network] or there
is damage to heritage structure' as a result of metal theft, the
court should consider whether to increase the sentence either
within the sentencing range or sentence outside the range."
In reference to the example of the theft of 150 brass plaques
from a crematorium, the Sentencing Council set out how the sentence
could increase from a few months in prison to between one and four
The War Memorials Trust has estimated that one monument a week
is targeted by metal thieves who remove copper or bronze plaques or
statuary to be melted down.
Addressing the consequences of metal theft is a key part of the
new proposals but the guideline covers a broad spectrum of theft
types, from handling stolen goods to leaving a restaurant or petrol
station without paying, and considers the factors that make one
offence more serious than another.
Central to the spirit of the new proposals is the understanding
that the value of stolen items to victims is not just financial -
something absent from the current more 'matter-of-fact' system.
"Existing guidance assesses the harm to the victim by looking at
the offence type and financial loss caused," says the consultation
document. "The new guideline goes further and considers the broader
impact of the theft on the victim, including a number of factors
not covered in the existing guidelines, such as emotional distress,
fear and loss of confidence caused by the crime."
If the new measures are finalised, judges and magistrates will
also be able to hand out more severe punishments when sentencing
thieves who have stolen items of "sentimental or personal
Similar measures are already in force for burglary but the new
guidelines will introduce them for other types of theft, such as
handbag snatches or stealing from a car.
The Council also recognises the impact that shop or stall thefts
can have - a far from victimless crime. In the shop theft draft
guideline, it emphasises not only loss of business but also takes
into account that the size or type of business can make the shop
owner particularly hard hit by thieves.
Peter Chapman, chairman of the Magistrates' Association Judicial
Committee, welcomed the new draft guidelines. "Magistrates sentence
a large number and a large variety of theft cases. Sometimes they
have to consider victims who have suffered direct financial loss,
and possibly also fear and loss of confidence to go about their
"Shop theft is a big problem for both large and small retail
businesses. Other offences expose the public to danger when vital
equipment is stolen. This updated and more detailed guideline will
help magistrates identify all the relevant factors to include in
their sentencing decisions."
Members of the public can respond to the whole consultation - or
just focus on specific issues or offence types that are of
particular interest to them - via email@example.com.
The 12-week consultation period closes on 26 June.
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