Kinross man found guilty of ‘sickening’ war memorial theft

Mr Stewart pictured at the memorial following the theft
Mr Stewart pictured at the memorial following the theft

A thief desecrated a village war memorial by stripping the plaques honouring the dead from two world wars and trying to sell the bronze for scrap, a court has heard.

Joseph Millar caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to the recently refurbished memorial in Milnathort, which featured the names of the fallen - including his own great-grandfather.

He stripped off three plaques weighing around 60 kilos and went with his friend Wayne Slaven to try and sell the metal for scrap so they could buy legal highs.

But horrified scrap dealer Mark Stewart immediately recognised what the plaques were and chased the duo from his yard after confiscating them.

At Perth Sheriff Court, a sheriff told Millar the public would be repulsed by his crime as she found him guilty of stealing the memorial plaques in July 2013.

The court was told that Milnathort in Bloom had raised thousands of pounds in charitable donations to restore the Orwell War Memorial.

But within days of the restored memorial being unveiled, three of the large metal plaques listing the town’s scores of war dead had been jemmied off and stolen. Another had been bent in a failed attempt to remove it.

Scrap merchant Mr Stewart told the court that Slaven drove into his yard and Millar got out to try and sell the plaques to him.

Mr Stewart said: “He asked if I wanted to buy copper. It was bronze plaques, not copper. They weighed 15 or 20 kilos each. I thought they were from a war memorial.

“It said the names - one was actually awarded the George Cross. There was no way they were going to leave my yard, so I took them and told the occupants of the car to get out of my yard while I phoned the police.

“I told them that I was phoning the police, that they were on camera and that I had taken the number of their car.”

Slaven also faced the same theft charge until the morning of the trial when the Crown accepted his not guilty plea and then produced him as a prosecution witness against his friend.

Slaven (45) from Kinross, said: “I gave Mr Millar a lift with some scrap. He said he would give me some petrol money and a cut of whatever he sold for scrap.

“I heard them mentioning memorial plaques. I didn’t want them back. I didn’t want anything to do with them. They were in my car after he put them there.”

Graham Stewart (56) was secretary of Milnathort in Bloom when £2500 was spent refurbishing the memorial before it was reopened in July 2013.

He said that the plaques were eventually returned by the police, but they and the stone memorial were so badly damaged that a further £8000 had to be spent on repairs.

Mr Stewart told the court: “The Second World War plaques were so badly damaged they had to be recast and remounted. The total cost was about £8000.”

Millar denied being responsible and blamed Slaven for the theft. He said his friend arrived with the plaques and wanted help to sell them for money to buy legal highs.

Millar told the court he had been a drug addict between the ages of 16 and 41, but was now a born-again Christian working as a landscape gardener.

He then said there was no way he would steal plaques from the town’s memorial because his great-grandfather Joseph McMillan - who he is named after - was among the war dead listed on it.

“My great-grandfather’s name is on the war memorial plaque, so it would be stupid of me stealing it. Joe McMillan - I’m named after him. His brothers got killed, my great uncles.

“Why am I going to desecrate a grave, because that’s what it is?”

Millar (43), of 173b High Street, Kinross, was found guilty of stealing the plaques from the memorial between July 22 and 24, 2013.

Sheriff Valerie Johnston deferred sentence for reports and told Millar: “You have maintained over two years that you did not steal these plaques, but that is because you recognise the horror people would feel over your actions. You used the word desecration yourself.”

The bronze plaques were created as part of a restoration totaling £13,000 and had been designed to be theft resistant. They were stolen from the stone structure within hours of protective fencing being removed.

At the time Graeme Stewart said: “When I saw what they had done I was so angry I couldn’t speak. It’s a desecration of the memory of these people who died for us.

“It’s obviously happened just after we completed the refurbishment, because the steel fence set up to protect it only just came down.

“This particular part of the project cost £13,000, which was for grouting, pointing, resetting the base stones, cleaning and polishing the plaques and replacing a damaged section of the monument.

“They were screwed in and welded on so that they couldn’t be stolen, but it looks like they’ve been wrenched off with a crowbar. The obvious conclusion is that they’ve done it to sell them for scrap. It is absolutely sickening.”