Criminal damage, damage to memorials and theft


Last reviewed: 10/03/2023

Criminal damage


Criminal damage is the “deliberate or reckless damage” of property without lawful excuse.  The damage does not have to be permanent – people have been accused of this offence after using chalk on paving stones. It includes interfering with property in a manner that causes loss, which could include loss of profit (e.g. by setting off a fire alarm). Defence can often hinge on the ‘lawful excuse’ aspect of this offence. This offence is divided into two: Damage below or above £5,000.

If value of damage is under £5,000 Sentencing starting point: conditional discharge and compensation order (i.e. you may be asked to pay back the costs of cleaning and repair), tried in a Magistrates Court. Maximum sentence: custodial sentence of up to 3 months, £2,500 fine

If value of damage is over £5,000 Sentencing starting point: a suspended sentence* and compensation order, tried in either a Magistrates Court or Crown Court. Maximum sentence when tried in Magistrates Court: £5,000 fine and six month custodial sentence. Maximum sentence when tried in Crown Court: custodial sentence of up to 10 years.

*A suspended prison sentence is the term given to a prison sentence imposed by the court, and then suspended (i.e. ‘delayed’) . The court may decide to delay the prison without any additional conditions other than  that they do not commit any further offence during the operational period or with conditions that include a range of possibilities both punitive and rehabilitative. If the defendant breaches the terms of the suspended sentence, or commits another offence, they are likely to be sent to prison to serve the original prison term imposed.

Possessing anything with intent to  destroy or damage. 

This offence is governed by the  S3 Criminal Damage Act 1971 .The prosecution must show that the person had an item in his custody or control without lawful excuse intending to use it or permit it to be used to cause damage  to property. Activists found on their way to an action with bolt-croppers have been charged with having items with intent to cause Criminal Damage. The most ridiculous arrests we’ve seen for this were for having permanent markers! This carries a maximum sentence at the Crown court of 10 years and in the Magistrates 6 months. In the example above if a reasonable excuse is raised the prosecution would have to show it wasnt reasonable. 

 Criminal damage to memorials + statues

Section 50 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 has made it so that if an "offence [is] committed by destroying or damaging property by fire" or an "offence [is] committed by destroying or damaging a memorial", then it does not matter what the value of damage is when determining if the case should be heard in the Magistrates or Crown Court. All damage to memorials is now triable either-way (in either the Magistrates or Crown Court).

This means that even if the damage is deemed to be of very low value, the case could be sent to the Crown Court, where it is possible for the maximum sentence of up to 10 years to be applied.

The word 'memorial' has been defined as a building, structure, or any other thing that is "erected or installed" on land, OR "a garden or any other thing planted or grown on land" that has a "commemorative purpose." 

This also includes "any moveable thing (such as a bunch of flowers)" which is left in, on or at a memorial. It must, however, have (or can reasonably be assumed to have) a 'commemorative purpose'.

The legislation states that something has a 'commemorative purpose' if "at least one of its purposes is to commemorate" individuals or animals, or a 'description' of individuals or animals OR "an event or a series of events (such as an armed conflict)." It does not matter whether or not the individuals or animals are or were "living or deceased" or "capable of being identified.” 


This is “dishonestly appropriating another’s property with intent to permanently deprive them of it”. Maximum penalty is 7 years imprisonment if the case was dealt with at the Crown court. As there is a very broad range of behaviours that are covered most minor offences of theft (eg shoplifting) are dealt with in the Magistrates court by way of a fine or a conditional discharge.