A scrap metal dealer who took in stolen crematorium plaques and cut them up in an attempt to disguise them has been jailed for 15 months.

Some of the plaques were still screwed to the stakes used to plant them at cemeteries across south London including Croydon, Teddington, Putney Vale and Beckenham.

And footage shown to the jury during Joseph Collier’s trial at Croydon Crown Court showed some of the plaques were still caked with fresh mud and grass.

The 72-year-old denied that he knew the plaques were stolen but a jury found him guilty on October 1 and he was sentenced at Isleworth Crown Court this morning.

His sentence comes two and a half years after police raided Collier's DSM Scrap Metal Yard in Bensham Lane, Croydon, in May 2012, as part of a London-wide crackdown on metal theft.

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The scrap metal yard had been brought to the attention of police after Croydon Council’s trading standards officers expressed their concern that stolen metal was being accepted there.

When police entered the premises in Bensham Lane, Croydon, officers found several bags and boxes containing hundreds of memorial plaques that had been stolen from cemeteries.

Many of the plaques had been cut up at the yard into small pieces in an attempt to disguise them.

Officers also discovered a large bronze dragon statue that had been stolen from an address in Teddington, as well as a statue of Christ stolen from Putney Vale Cemetery.

In order to identify where the plaques had been stolen from, officers from Croydon spent several hours painstakingly piecing them back together.

Collier, of Woodhall Drive, Dulwich, was arrested and charged with offences the day after the raid and was bailed pending his court appearance.

In the meantime, detectives set about trawling through CCTV footage at the yard, and found footage that showed Collier overseeing the cutting-up of the memorial plaques by his machines - plaques that he claimed at court, that he had no knowledge of.

In March last year, suspicious that Collier was continuing to receive stolen goods whilst on bail and awaiting his trial, police contacted UK Power Networks, who assisted them with an undercover operation.

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An officer sold him eight brand-new reels of copper wiring, which were stamped with UK Power Networks.

The officer, who was named Paul for the operation, told him to be careful and get rid of them quickly.

Investigating officer Sergeant George Shannon said: "I can only describe Collier's attitude throughout this whole process as brazen.

"He tried to deny any knowledge of receiving stolen items, but some of the memorial plaques even had the mud and wall plugs attached where they'd been prized from the graves.

"There was little doubt that he knew they were stolen and he had absolutely no regard for the law.

"His actions, in accepting stolen metal, have fuelled other criminal activity by thieves stealing metal to make a quick profit by selling it to unscrupulous scrap dealers like Collier.

"Metal theft has a huge impact on society - be it through delays on train networks or power cuts where cabling has been stolen, or the emotional effects associated with the theft of memorial plaques.

"The majority of registered scrap metal dealers are operating correctly, but we will continue to target those who don't and will bring the full force of the law against them.

"He will now be behind bars for several months and the next phase of our investigation will be looking at action we can take under the Proceeds of Crime Act to confiscate any assets Collier has gained through his criminal activity."