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Christchurch woman jailed for stealing plaques from war veterans' graves to fund drug addiction

A Christchurch woman who stole bronze plaques from the graves of 37 war veterans and sold them as scrap metal to fund a drug addiction has been sentenced to 26 months in jail.

Gail Wickes, 41, was also sentenced on other unrelated charges, including possession of cannabis, at the hearing before Judge Jane Farish in the Christchurch District Court today.

The court heard how Wickes was in the throes of a methamphetamine addiction when she uplifted 37 bronze plaques from the RSA section at Springston Cemetery on May 2, using a chisel to pull them off the concrete.

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Gail Wickes, 41, was sentenced in the Christchurch District Court. Source: 1 NEWS

Working with others who haven’t been identified, she later filed the names off and sold some of them to a scrap dealer for just $1026.90, using the funds to feed her drug addiction.

The offending horrified the families of the war veterans, who say they deserve more respect after serving their country in conflicts like WWII and the Korean War.

They have since spent months arranging replacement plaques, in an effort which cost as much as $34,000.

In a victim impact statement read to the court, local RSA president Stan Hansen said the families had been disgusted by the "senseless act".

"You and others forcibly removed grave plaques, that’s bad enough, but then you filed their names away," Mr Hansen said.

“You ripped out their hearts and then without hesitation you removed their memory, all of this for your daily fix."

A daughter of one the many soldiers buried there, Margaret Chapman, struggled through tears as she read her statement to the court, saying her family was heartbroken.

Her father Arnold Chapman had fought through several battles in the Second World War.

"This act is such an affront to all things sacred and decent," Ms Chapman said.

"The sacrifice of those young men for our freedom was such that they fought with every fibre of their bodies to protect future generations."

Others spoke echoing the same sentiments and all those who gave statements also expressed a desire for Wickes to use the incident as a spark to tackle her problems and work towards better things.

Her lawyer, Sunny Teki-Clark, said Wickes had "hit rock bottom" after suffering from the meth addiction and she was extremely remorseful for her actions. She had handed herself into police voluntarily.

Judge Farish noted that addiction requires "intensive treatment", describing methamphetamine as a "plague", but said the acts were "incredibly selfish" regardless.

She refused Wickes' lawyer’s pleas to admit Wickes to a treatment facility and chose to jail her instead, highlighting that rehabilitation services were also available in prison. She also ordered a $5000 reparation payment.

Court sentencing of Gail Maree Wickes in Christchurch. Source: Stacy Squires/Stuff