People who vandalise war memorials could receive similar sentences to child abusers and human traffickers – under a new bill introduced by a Stoke-on-Trent MP.
Stoke-on-Trent North MP Jonathan Gullis presented the bill, which would create a specific offence of desecrating a war memorial, in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon.
At the moment, only offences of criminal damage where the damage exceeds £5,000 can be dealt with at Crown Court. Otherwise they are dealt with at magistrates’ court, with a maximum sentence of six months.
Mr Gullis’s private member’s bill, which was introduced under the 10 minute rule, would remove this £5,000 threshold for damage to war memorials and establish a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
Other offfences which currently have a maximum sentence of 14 years include causing death by dangerous driving; sexual activity with a child and trafficking into UK for sexual exploitation.
The bill comes in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests across the UK, which saw various statues attacked and damaged, with the Cenotaph in London being graffitied.
Mr Gullis believes the current legislation does not do enough to protect war memorials from vandalism.
He said: “The price of war is immeasurably high. Those of us who value freedom of thought, speech and expression know we can never repay the debt we owe to these men and women; all we can do is immortalise their memory, and our gratitude for their sacrifice.
“Memorials stand in great, solemn, eternal remembrance of the glorious dead, lasting symbols of our gratitude. We can’t bring those lives back, we can’t erase the grief of families and communities, the very least we can do is make sure that memorials are adequately protected and punish those who would deface, urinate, spit, defile, and graffiti on them.”
Under the 10 minute rule, a backbench MP gets 10 minutes to introduce their bill. This is followed by a vote on whether to give the bill its first reading.
MPs voted in favour of Mr Gulli’s bill, and it could now get its second reading in the Commons on September 11.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Gullis said: “It’s been a pleasure to have the opportunity to present this important bill before Parliament. I believe we as legislators should do the right thing and protect the memory of those who fought for the democracy in which we operate. This bill has government and cross-party support and I sincerely hope that this bill passes unopposed and is drafted into law.”