TWO men have been jailed for trying to sell six plaques which were prised off Ilfracombe’s main war memorial as scrap metal.

Ben Pearsall and Jason Vickery were arrested at a metal recycling yard in Barnstaple where staff had been alerted by the police to look out for the stolen bronze plaques.

The two men were both drug addicts who were willing to see the plaques, which had inestimable cultural and sentimental value, to be melted down and destroyed.

Both wrote letters of apology which said they were remorseful and realised the seriousness of what they did because their own families had lost relatives during the two World Wars.

The War Memorial was the centrepiece of a memorial garden at the Holy Trinity Church yard at Ilfracombe and contained the names of hundreds of servicemen who gave their lives during the two World Wars.

It was dedicated on Armistice Day, 1924 after being paid for by public subscription and created by in granite and bronze by local craftsmen. It is listed at grade two as a historical monument.

Six out of seven large plaques were prised off in the early hours of January 11 this year. They were recovered when the men were arrested a few days later but had suffered damage around their edges where they were removed.

Vickery, aged 43, of Barton Tors, Bideford, and Pearsall, aged 39, of Fore Street, Langtree, Torrington, admitted dealing in tainted cultural objects and were both jailed for 10 months by Judge Stephen Climie at Exeter Crown Court.

The judge described the men as “a pair of chancers” and said: “No-one in this court should lose sight of the loss of  lives between 1914 and 1918 and 1939 and 1945 which allowed us to survive as a nation.

“Memorials exist all across the country, including in Ilfracombe which commemorate that commitment. They are a national treasure. What you two did is to abuse the memory of all those whose lives were lost and all that commitment, including members of your own families.”

Pearsall also admitted carrying a knife and going equipped for theft in Bideford in October 2022 and received a further four months in prison.

Miss Victoria Bastock, prosecuting, said that police alerted local scrapyards after the theft and so staff at South West Metal Recycling recognised the plaques when the two men turned up in a van.

They claimed the plaques came from a demolition site but the staff realised what they were and not only contacted the police but kept them talking until they arrived. The men even got as far as weighing the plaques before they were recovered and the damage to the corners was noted.

Miss Hollie Gilbery, for Pearsall, and Miss Laila Jhaveru, for Vickery, said the offences had been opportunistic and committed at a time when both men were using drugs. They are both keen to get help from probation to stay out of trouble in the future.