Labour would back new law to protect war memorials with 10-year jail terms for vandals, says shadow home secretary
Labour will back a plan by the government to jail people who deface war memorials and other monuments, the party’s shadow home secretary has said.
Under plans being considered by Home Secretary Priti Patel and cabinet colleagues, vandals could face 10-year prison sentences if convicted.
The proposed new law comes as gangs of far-right football hooligans mobilised across the country on Saturday to “protect” war memorials from anti-racism protesters, who they mistakenly believed were systematically targeting them.
The new law could also cover some of the statues actually being targeted by Black Lives Matter protesters, the Sunday Telegraph reports.
The broad definition could potentially encompass controversial military officers who took part in colonial wars.
That bill also has a maximum penalty of 10 years and defined war memorial as “any physical object created, erected or installed to commemorate those involved in or affected by conflict or war, including civilians and animals”.
Under these plans, it would have been an offence to show “an act of disrespect including spitting, urination or defecation”.
The law would come in the form a Desecration of War Memorials Bill, which is already said to be backed by over 100 Conservative MPs and is due to be presented to the Commons by two backbenchers.
Asked about the proposals for 10-year prison sentences, Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told Sky News: “I would support the government in creating a specific offence of protecting war memorials and I would be willing to work with the government on that.”
An identically named private members’ bill was previously introduced in the 2009-2010 session of parliament, but it did not make it into law because parliament was prorogued for that year’s election and the bill could not complete its course.
The issue has risen up the agenda after a single piece of graffiti reading “BLM” appeared on the cenotaph during a previous Black Lives Matter demonstration last weekend. The cenotaph has also been damaged during previous protesters, including the 2010 student demonstrations.
Photos from this Saturday’s right-wing demonstration in parliament square showed a protester urinating in the immediate vicinity of a memorial to PC Keith Palmer, who was killed in a 2017 terror attack on the Palace of Westminster. It is unclear whether PC Palmer’s monument would count as a war memorial under the law.
Speaking on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday show he added: “I want to say a particular word as well about that awful scene of someone urinating next to PC Keith Palmer’s memorial.
“Absolutely despicable behaviour and I hope that individual is identified and brought to justice.”
The Metropolitan Police announced on Sunday morning a 28-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of outraging public decency in connection with the incident.
Mr Thomas-Symonds also said Mr Johnson needs to set out “concrete steps” to address “the inequality and racism that still sadly exists in our country”.
“The Prime Minister needs to come forward, show that he understands the hurt and the anguish of the stories that black people in our country have spoken about so movingly in recent weeks and also to set out the concrete steps that his Government now intends to take to address that,” he said.