TWO men branded “disgraceful” after they sold a precious war memorial for scrap have walked free from court.
The £15,000 plaque commemorates 57 civilian victims of bombing raids on Sunderland during the Second World War.
It was stolen from Grangetown cemetery last September.
Newcastle Crown Court heard teenager Anthony Roberts found the four foot by two foot bronze tribute, which was engraved with the names of the dead, lying on grassland while he was out on a fishing trip.
An inscription at the top of the plaque: “In Everlasting Memory we record the names of those civilians who lost their lives through enemy action on this town and are interred in this cemetery.”
The 18-year-old then drafted in help from pal John Ferguson, 37, and the pair took the plaque to a Pallion firm, where it was traded in as scrap for £124.
It was only later, when the metal merchant realised what he had bought, that police were alerted.
Roberts, of Greta Terrace, High Barnes, and Ferguson, of Athol Road, Hendon, admitted handling stolen goods.
At Newcastle Crown Court yesterday the pair were given suspended sentences.
Judge David Wood said: “The plaque had been stolen from a wall at Grangetown cemetery.
“It commemorates people in Sunderland who gave their lives in the last war. It is an object of considerable sentimental value to those whose families are involved with those who are named on the plaque.
“It is regarded with great sentiment and pride to the people who live in that area.
“To have it stolen is bad enough; to have it weighed in at a scrapyard is just disgraceful.”
The court heard the plaque may be able to be restored for about £1,100.
The judge told the pair: “How you two could have sunk so low as to do that really beggars belief.
“I imagine you both are thoroughly ashamed of what you have done.”
Robert Adams, defending Roberts, who was given a nine-month jail term, suspended for 12 months, with 150 hours unpaid work, admitted: “Most members of the public would be absolutely appalled that a war memorial came dangerously close to being melted down for scrap.”
Mr Adams said Roberts was a “stupid teenager” who did not realise the seriousness of what he had done.
Ferguson was sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, with 150 hours unpaid work.
His barrister Bob Spragg said Ferguson had not realised what the item was.