news

Little Neston man jailed over Willaston war memorial theft

A ‘DESPICABLE’ thief who tried to make cash from selling a stolen war memorial plaque has been jailed for nine weeks.

A ‘DESPICABLE’ thief who tried to make cash from selling a stolen war memorial plaque has been jailed for nine weeks.

Michael Coyle, of Mellock Lane, Little Neston, pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods when he appeared before Chester magistrates on Thursday, five months after the First World War plaque was wrenched from Christ Church memorial in Willaston.

The court heard how convicted burglar Coyle, 40, tried to sell the plaque, which was worth £1,130 when it was erected in 1921, to KJ Bell scrap metal merchants in Ellesmere Port when it was reported missing on July 30.

At first the scrapyard attendant did not notice the nature of the metal, which had been folded over, and valued it at £183.30.

But on closer inspection, he saw the inscription on the plaque which read, ‘In memory of those who lost their lives’ and, realising what it was, declined to accept it, and Coyle left the premises.

CCTV images of Coyle helped police to track him down at his home three miles away where he was arrested, but has has not helped them find the plaque, which is still missing.

Prosecutor Sue Gibson said the theft of the plaque has caused ‘a lot of concern in the local community’.

She added: “The defendant has been asked several times whether he is prepared to name the person from whom he received the plaque but he has not done so.”

Defending, Chris Hunt told the court Coyle would face threats of ‘unspeakable violence’ if he divulged the person’s identity and that he and his elderly parents, who are both unwell, were already being subjected to a threats on social networking sites.

Mr Hunt described his client’s behaviour as ‘stupid, naive and unsophisticated’ but said he did express sincere remorse over the incident, adding: “He is well aware of the sacrifices made by his ancestors and everybody else’s.”

But chairman of the bench Michael Trevor-Barnston said the theft of the plaque was ‘a despicable offence’ which had caused ‘emotional distress’ to the community.

Sentencing Coyle to nine weeks custody, he said: “You failed to help police recover the plaque, causing shock and abhorrence to the families and loved ones.”

The plaque will cost about £7,000 to replace.

Former military-officer Les Torry from Wervin, who has followed Coyle’s case since his arrest and has organised three petitions to bring attention to the crime, said he thought the sentence was ‘far too lenient’.

The 74-year-old said: “I would have liked to have seen a stiffer consequence.

“I don’t see it as much of a deterrent and I think the reaction of the Willaston community will be one of revulsion.”

View full mobile page