Relatives’ dismay as men who sold Sunderland war memorial avoid prison

Laurence Smith  reading the copy of the Sunderland Echo with the story of the vandalised war memorial from Grangetown Cemetery.

Laurence Smith reading the copy of the Sunderland Echo with the story of the vandalised war memorial from Grangetown Cemetery.

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RELATIVES of Wearside’s war dead today spoke of their outrage after two men who sold a memorial for scrap escaped a jail sentence.

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.

A 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.

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.

As reported in the Echo, Roberts, of Greta Terrace, High Barnes, and Ferguson, of Athol Road, Hendon, admitted handling stolen goods and were handed suspended sentences by a judge at Newcastle Crown Court.

Relatives of those named on the memorial today spoke of their shock at the sentence.

Lawrence Smith, 84, whose mum, brother and sister were featured on the memorial, said: “I know the problems with jail sentences, the prisons are full and there is no more room for more criminals, but I would like to have seen them given a more serious punishment. This was a terrible act.”

Roberts, who was given a nine-month jail term, suspended for 12 months, with 150 hours unpaid work, while Ferguson was sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, with 150 hours unpaid work.

Mr Smith, a former Ministry of Defence worker, from Hendon, lost his mum Madeline, 48, brother Edwin, eight, and 18-year-old sister, also called Madeline, in an air raid on Sunderland city centre in 1941.

“I would like to see these two people put something back into the community,” said Mr Smith. “They sold something which belonged to the community, now they should be made to repay that.”

Sunderland councillor Tom Wright, of Pennywell, was also left stunned by the attack on the memorial, which included the names of his aunt Mary Harvey, 25, and cousin Annie, five, killed when a bomb dropped where Sunderland Winter Gardens now stands.

“I certainly would have liked to have seen these two given a more severe sentence,” he said. “At the very least, I would have liked to have seen them made to pay for the damage.

“The memorial is a unique part of the city’s history and an important part of our family history, as well as others’.”

“They should be made to pay.”

Twitter: @sunderlandecho.