Those who disrespect our war dead should face tougher sentences
Scaffolders erect boarding around the Cenotaph
Our memorials stand in solemn remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Whether it's pub dwellers seeking relief or protesters seeking to amplify their cause, anyone who damages them should face the consequences
What is the job of lawmakers if it is not to condemn reprehensible behaviour, to ascertain on behalf of our constituents the appetite for legal change, to stand up and advocate for the criminalisation of actions so heinous, so contrary to the values of the society in which we live, that they warrant the creation of a specific offence with sentences appropriately reflective of the crime?
I must admit, early on, that I have a vested interest in this field. My great-great uncle is a D-Day veteran, my grandfather was a Royal Marine and served during the Suez Canal Crisis, and the career I had once envisioned for myself stemming out of Sandhurst was prevented only by an uncooperative right ear.
The cenotaph is the embodiment of a great, unspeakable loss, and a tribute of respect to the brutality of losing your life in war, and the patriotism and valour it requires to do so. In which case, the cenotaph is unique only in its grandeur; every plaque, every statue and every war memorial in every village, town and city across this country serves to remind us of this impossible gratitude we have little choice but afford to our armed forces both past and present.
The cenotaph has been subject to an intolerable level of abuse over the past few years, usually in the aid of achieving some perceived political ends; in 2011 the son of a rock and roll star swung from the Union flag as he protested university fees, and the cenotaph was recently graffitied during protests against racial discrimination. Mere days later it witnessed further violence and Nazi salutes at the hands of those who, perplexingly, claimed to defend it.
The proposal is to exempt damage to war memorials from the £5000 damages threshold required under the Criminal Damages Act 1971, and for those offences to decided either way by a Magistrate if it should go up to the Crown Court or not. It would also empower the police to know the law has their back at they protect such important memorials to our glorious dead.
The human cost of war is high, we can never repay the debt we owe to those who left the safety of their homes to fight and die in lands unknown; memorials stand in eternal, solemn remembrance of those who made that ultimate sacrifice. It is not right that these monuments are drawn on, spat on, urinated on or subject to profane graffiti as they have been on numerous occasions across the country.
Whether a pub dweller seeks relief or protesters seek the amplification of their cause, pleading ignorance or apathy to the enormous disrespect they do to their histories and the disservice they do to themselves should no longer stand; I want to see tougher sentences, harsher fines and the deterrence of criminal damage being done to the glorious dead.
This Bill will create a specific offence, distinguishable from damage to public property, and is the respectable thing to do. Let us join our friends in Australia, in the United States and in Canada and pay the respect we owe to those who died in the freedom fight against tyranny.
To disrespect a memorial is to disrespect the memory of all killed in service of this country and this country’s great liberties.
My constituents in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke demand we do better, and I know that I have their full support as I pursue the legal enhancement of punishments placed upon these offenders.
I will be laying the Bill before Parliament on the 23rd June 2020 and hope to seek support from all sides of the House of Commons.