06/10/2015 00:01 BST | Updated 05/10/2016 06:12 BST

Thieves Who Deface Heritage Sites Face Tougher Sentences

Thieves who deface war memorials and other important parts of the nation's heritage face tougher sentences under new rules.

It is the first time that offences involving historic objects being stolen have been specifically recognised as "more serious" by the Sentencing Council.

The guidelines say this includes damage to war memorials when thieves steal metal plaques, or even theft of objects from a historic shipwreck.

Mark Harrison, national policing and crime adviser for Historic England, said: "The value of England's heritage can't be judged in pounds and pence.

"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. Heritage crime comes in many forms.

"When thieves steal metal from heritage assets, such as listed churches, artefacts from the ground or historic stonework from an ancient castle, they are stealing from all of us and damaging something which is often irreplaceable."

Theft is one of the most common offences dealt with by courts - more than 91,000 offenders were sentenced last year.

New guidelines will apply to the full range of theft offences, such as shop theft, pickpocketing, handling stolen goods, stealing by employees or care workers, and abstraction of electricity.

For the first time, the courts will have specific guidance for common offences such as theft of a motor vehicle or bicycle.

While the value of items stolen remains an important factor in deciding a sentence, the guidelines focus on the impact of thefts on victims beyond financial loss, such as emotional distress, loss of confidence and disruption and inconvenience.

Other factors making an offence more serious include thefts that risk harm to people, such as stealing electrical cables.

Jill Gramann, Sentencing Council member and magistrate, said: "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.

"Thefts are committed for financial gain but can mean much more than financial loss to the victim and we want to ensure sentences take this into account."