Kinross man jailed for memorial plaque thefts

Graeme Stewart pictured at the memorial following the thefts
Graeme Stewart pictured at the memorial following the thefts

A thief who desecrated a war memorial featuring his own great-grandfather by stripping it to sell for scrap has been jailed for a year.

Joseph Millar tried to make money to fund his drug habit by removing bronze plaques honouring the dead from two world wars and selling them to a scrap dealer.

Orwell War Memorial in Milnathort - which had been refurbished through a community fundraising effort - suffered £8000 worth of damage.

Perth Sheriff Court was told that Millar (43) was now a pariah in his home town of Kinross because locals were so sickened by the theft.

Jailing Millar for the maximum 12 months, Sheriff Valerie Johnston said: “War memorials are extremely important in society and are prominent features which are exposed and vulnerable.

“That they are rarely vandalised tells its own story. The local community gave generously to put it there and then you stole the plaques. Two were so badly damaged they had to be recast.

“The community and the contractor then contributed again to the repair and remounting of the plaques. Thanks to the honesty and integrity of scrap dealer Mark Stewart your shocking desecration of this war memorial was detected and the plaques were recovered.”

Millar’s solicitor Haseeb Hassan told the court: “He is disgraced by his actions. He even states that his great-grandfather’s name is inscribed on the war memorial and it is shameful this offence was committed.

“He has suffered abuse and threatening behaviour towards him from locals because of the nature of the offence.”

Millar was found guilty of stripping three plaques weighing around 60 kilos in July 2013 and then going with 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.

Milnathort in Bloom had raised thousands of pounds in charitable donations to restore the memorial.>

But within days of it 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 2,500 pounds was spent refurbishing the memorial before it was reopened in July 2013.

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 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 claimed he would not 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, of 173 High Street, Kinross, was found guilty of stealing the plaques from the memorial between 22 and 24 July 2013.

The bronze plaques were created as part of a restoration totaling 13,000 pounds 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.”