A woman who stole dozens of war veterans' plaques from a cemetery and sold them for drug money has today been jailed and slammed for being "pathetic, selfish and disrespectful".
Gail Maree Wickes, 41, was sentenced to 26 months at Christchurch District Court this afternoon after admitting the theft of 37 brass grave plaques from Springston Cemetery after Anzac Day this year.
The plaques were reported missing to police after horrified family members discovered the desecration while going to pay their respects.
A week later, police recovered 17 plaques that had been sold to a Christchurch scrap dealer.
Mother-of-three Wickes was then caught selling another 20 plaques to a second scrap merchant.
She pocketed $1026.90 which she planned to spend on methamphetamine – a drug she'd been using for 11 years.
Wickes, who it was accepted was not the ringleader but to date is the only one who's been caught after she handed herself in, used a chisel to remove the plaques. She then scraped the names off the plaques before cashing them in.
Judge Jane Farish today heard from distraught family members whose loved ones' graves had been desecrated.
Makere Chapman, whose World War II veteran father Corporal Arnold Jesse Chapman fought at El Alamein in North Africa and Monte Cassino in Italy, was "heartbroken" by Wickes' actions.
Her family had been left "shocked and angered" at the desecration which occurred 75 years after the horrors her father had witnessed at the Battle of Monte Cassino.
While her father didn't talk much about the war, she remembers him speaking of a stream near his camp where the water ran "red with their blood".
"Can you imagine that?" Chapman asked a sobbing Wickes in the dock.
The graves of her father and mother buried alongside him were "sacred, tapu", Chapman said.
Canterbury District RSA president Stan Hansen spoke in court to represent RSA members who have been left "shocked, distressed, bewildered, saddened and angered" by Wickes' "senseless, arrogant act".
He also criticised her actions as being "pathetic, selfish and disrespectful".
Christchurch lawyer Todd Nicholls, whose maternal grandparents' graves were desecrated, said visiting the graves with his family is "a big part of who we are".
His grandparents, who survived World War II, were his "heroes" who "knew right from wrong and who believed in community and giving back to their country".
He, like the other family members, hoped Wickes would get help for her drug-addiction problem.
Defence counsel Sunny Teki-Clark admitted the crime was "deplorable" and "strikes at the heart of our national and cultural identity"
He had family members serve in the armed forces, while Wickes' own grandfather had been in the military.
The significance of their sacrifice is not lost on him or his client, the court heard.
Two drug and alcohol reports prepared for the court makes it clear that Wickes had "hit rock bottom" when the offending occurred, Teki-Clark said.
Wickes was now motivated to use her offending as a catalyst for long-term and significant changes, he said.
Judge Farish said the graves attack was "a despicable act".
The case highlighted the "plague" meth has become in New Zealand society, highlighting the large number of women she's seen in recent months who have lost children, homes, relationships and families because of the drug.
While she praised Wickes for the "brave and courageous" move to take part in a restorative justice act, she was not prepared to sentence her to home detention.
"Your acts on the 2nd of May were incredibly selfish. You put your need for methamphetamine before everything else," the judge told Wickes.
Wickes was sentenced to 26 months in jail and ordered to pay $5000 in reparation which the judge felt should be paid over the next 5-10 years. The cost of restoring the graves was around $34,000.