22 Oct 2009

War medals thief jailed

10:02 pm on 22 October 2009

A man who admitted stealing war medals from New Zealand's National Army Museum in 2007 has been jailed.

The 39-year-old, who has interim name suppression, appeared at Auckland District Court on Thursday after pleading guilty last month to a charge of burglary.

The man was jailed for a total of 11 years, including six for the medals theft and five years for a number of other charges, including fraud. He must serve at least seven years in prison.

Sentencing Judge Graham Hubble told the man the court took a dim view of those who steal national treasures and hold them to ransom.

The 96 medals were taken from the central North Island museum in Waiouru in December 2007 but were safely returned in February 2008 following an offer of a reward of $300,000.

Among the medals stolen were nine Victoria Crosses, including the VC and Bar awarded to distinguished New Zealand soldier Captain Charles Upham, who served in World War II.

The court was told the man has a long criminal record with more than 150 convictions and had intended to hold the medals for ransom. He received part of the reward money but has returned it.

On the day of the burglary, the man was stopped by police in Cambridge while on his way from Auckland to Waiouru and was given a speeding fine, the court was told.

Outside court, National Army Museum director Colonel Ray Seymour described the man as a cruel and calculated criminal.

Colonel Seymour said the thefts have taken a tremendous toll on himself and museum staff in the past two years and the apology the man gave in court was hollow.

"How dare criminals smash their way into the nation's memorial museum and steal such treasures. "

Charles Upham's daughter Amanda Upham attended the sentencing and believed the jail term was fair. However, she said she was unsure if the man's apology was genuine.

A second man charged over the theft of the medals is due to appear in court in Wanganui on Tuesday.