A scrap metal dealer outraged by the theft of the Carshalton memorial plaques has paid £21,000 to replace them.

Thieves stripped Carshalton War Memorial of 14 brass plaques bearing the names of 243 WWI servicemen in September 2011.

Stuart Nebbett, 45, from Guildford, was so disgusted by the theft he told Sutton Council he would foot the bill.

The new plaques made of Portland stone were unveiled in a service this morning.

The service was attended by councillors, Rev John Thewlis from All Saints church, Carshalton, family members of the war dead, and members of the Royal British Legion.

Relatives of the fallen WWI servicemen from as far as Liverpool attended the moving ceremony.

Mr Nebbett, the owner of B Nebbett and Son, a scrap dealership in Mitcham, said the thefts have always gone on but he put their increase down to the rising price of metal.

He said: “I think it was a disrespectful act of vandalism and stupidity.

“Being a local businessman for 25 years it was a gesture to put something right.

“I thought I would try and portray scrap metal industry in a better light; not all of us are terrible crooks- the vast majority are legitimate companies."

He spoke of the public anger he saw in reaction to the thefts.

“The British Legion are so happy. I had a letter from a service man’s family who died saying they were very touched.”

For Mr Nebbett this was not just a chance to change public perception of the scrap metal trade but to prevent the thefts in the first place.

He said the deterrent is not great enough under the current laws and thieves can expect to get away with a fine or a suspended sentence.

Mr Nebbett has been in discussion with Sutton police and the council to encourage a crack down on unlicensed scrap metal yards.

Lord Graham Tope, executive member for community safety, leisure and libraries at Sutton council, said: "Our community was absolutely devastated by the loss of our war memorial, so we're delighted to be able to unveil the replacement monument. We were determined to replace the plaques which were stolen but it would have placed huge pressure on our already tight budget, so we are very grateful to Mr Nebbett's generous donation.

"Since the theft we have been working closely with the police and I have been lobbying the House of Lords for a change in the law, which has been described as 'Steptoe and Son' legislation.

"The existing scrap metal laws date back to 1964 and urgently need revisiting. We want to see stricter ID checks, a cashless payment system and a crackdown on unlicensed yards."