VANDALS who deface or damage the borough’s war memorials will now face tougher penalties under new court guidelines.
Magistrates can now hand out longer sentences to offenders who commit offences including stealing metal from memorials as part of a crackdown on incidents involving heritage and historic objects.
The borough has seen a spate of incidents over the past few years, with Wigan’s war memorial outside the parish church being attacked and offenders throwing white paint over the Platt Bridge monument last year.
The new sentences were welcomed by veterans’ organisations and heritage groups.
John Burns, chairman of the Ashton branch of the Royal British Legion (RBL), said: “It’s about time this was brought in. There has been far too many cases where people have effectively got away with it or been given a slap on the wrist.
“When they are defacing something as important as a memorial stone that’s not good enough and I’m all for tougher sentences.
“It makes me really angry because if it wasn’t for the people whose memories those monuments are about people wouldn’t be able to do what they do nowadays.”
Wigan Council has recently organised a programme to refurbish several war memorials across the borough, including the defaced Platt Bridge monument.
Leigh firm WJ Structures carried out work on the cross, which had been attacked by paint, as well as the memorials in Wigan and Tyldesley.
Managing director Wayne Jolley said last year: “I suppose until we got the job to refurbish Wigan memorial I never realised just how many people actually still visit them and how important they remain for an awful lot of people.”
Mark Harrison, national policing and crime adviser for Historic England, said: “The impact of theft on our historic sites and buildings has far-reaching consequences over and above the financial cost of what has been stolen.
“When thieves steal metal from our heritage assets they are stealing from all of us and damaging something which is is often irreplaceable.”
Other types of theft including electrical cables from railway - offences which could put the public in danger –will also attract harsher punishments under the new review by the Sentencing Council.
The new measures mean that for the first time courts have a definitive guide on how to deal with all kinds of thefts including shoplifting, pickpocketing, handling stolen goods and abstracting electricity.
Previously magistrates were only able to issue some sentences based on similar types of offences.
Theft is one of the most common sorts of crime in the UK, with more than 91,000 people convicted last year.
Jill Gramann, a JP and member of the Sentencing Council, said theft crimes varied considerably. “They range from someone stealing from shops to fund an addiction to organised gangs stealing designer goods to order, or people diverting electricity to power a cannabis farm.
“The new guidelines will help judges and magistrates deal with this great variety of offences while ensuring that the harm caused to the victim is central to the sentencing decision.”