Phone thieves causing emotional distress ‘to face tougher sentences’

© Suzanne Plunkett
Thieves caught stealing mobile phones containing images of deceased loved ones or treasured messages will face tougher sentences under new rules. Longer jail terms will also be handed to criminals found defacing war memorials.

Under new guidelines by the Sentencing Council, thieves who have caused victims emotional trauma by stealing phones that contain sentimental material will face severe consequences. 

According to the rules, set to come into effect next February, criminals will receive harsher punishments if they are convicted of taking belongings “with substantial value to the loser regardless of monetary worth.”

Valuables include mobile phones or electronic communication devices containing irreplaceable images or videos.

In a statement published by the Sentencing Council on Tuesday, magistrate member Jill Gramann said: “The harm caused to the victim is central to the sentencing decision.”

Thefts are committed for financial gain, but can mean much more than financial loss to the victim and we want to ensure sentences take this into account,” she added.

A spokesperson for the council said: “If a phone that is stolen contains irreplaceable sentimental data then that would be part of it.

‘Jolly good idea’ 

Speaking to the Telegraph, Georgina Dormer, 73, from Brighton said it is a “jolly good idea” to punish thieves more severely because of the “heartache” they put people through.

In 2013, Dormer’s phone containing the last recordings of her late husband’s voice was stolen.

Michael had a lovely speaking voice. It was such a shock when it was stolen, just five days after he died, and it really set me back,” she told the paper.

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, there were 742,000 victims of mobile phone theft during 2012 and 2013 – more than 2,000 a day.

The guidelines do not mention specific increases in sentences, but crimes like these will be taken more seriously when the rules come into force next year.

‘Heritage crimes comes in many forms’ 

Under the new guidelines, those who deface war memorials and other historic parts of England’s heritage will also face tougher sentences.

Historic England, a government service championing the country’s heritage, said the impact of theft on historic buildings has “far reaching consequences.”

The impact of theft on our historic sites and buildings has far-reaching consequences over and above the financial cost of what has been stolen. Heritage crime comes in many forms,” national policing and crime adviser for Historic England Mark Harrison said in a statement.

When thieves steal metal from heritage assets, such as listed churches, artifacts from the ground or historic stonework from an ancient castle, they are stealing from all of us and damaging something which is often irreplaceable,” he added.

The guidelines will cover sentences for all thefts in England and Wales, which amounted for more than 91,000 last year.