Two posed for pictures with damaged wreath

TWO young men walked from the Magistrate's Court yesterday facing community service orders after a Liberation wreath at the War Memorial was desecrated.

Martins Biders, 24, and Arturs Rupieks, 20, both admitted acts of behaving in a disorderly manner.

The court heard they posed for photographs in Lefebvre Street with a wreath that the Bailiff had laid at the War Memorial just hours earlier to mark the 75th anniversary of the Liberation.

On 9 May last year then-Bailiff Sir Richard Collas laid the wreath at the top of Smith Street, but the following day it was missing.

Richard McMahon's first duty after being sworn in as Bailiff was to lay a wreath at the War Memorial Smith street to replace the one that was vandalised. (29417593)

Heads from carnations were later spotted near the bottom of New Street and the bulk of the damaged wreath was found in Lefebvre Street.

Prosecuting Advocate Rory Calderwood said neither man had been charged with causing criminal damage to the wreath, as there was a reasonable possibility that could have been done by somebody else. Had it not been for the admissions of Rupieks it was unlikely there would have been a prosecution at all as there was no CCTV footage.

Judge Graeme McKerrell said he had to make decisions objectively and dispassionately.

‘Nothing I can say can minimise your behaviour and I cannot ignore the context in which this was committed,’ he said.

He accepted that while neither may have instigated what he called a despicable incident, the fact that they posed for photos with the wreath was an aggravating factor.

Judge McKerrell said he understood just how disappointed people would have felt when learning of the damage caused.

The best way to deal with it was by making both defendants give something back to the community, he said.

Biders was ordered to carry out 80 hours’ community service while the sentence for Rupieks was 60 hours given his additional co-operation. Both had no previous convictions.

The Royal British Legion organise for wreaths to be laid on Remembrance Sunday in November and Guernsey president Bob Place said it was important for people to respect wreaths.

‘It’s unfortunate that this has become a fact of life,’ he said.

‘It’s a slight on the people we are trying to remember.’

A witness reported the damage to the police last May and an appeal was put out for information.

The two men attended the police station later the same day. Biders, who had his girlfriend with him, was not treated as a suspect at the time.

The Royal Court Building in St James Street. (29417569)

Rupieks told police that they had been drinking and were among a group of people in the Sunken Garden. He recalled picking up the wreath at the War Memorial and wanting his photo taken with it. He could not recall others raising concern.

He remembered having his photo taken in Lefebvre Street and following this Biders’ girlfriend’s camera was seized.

Photos on it showed a woman with the wreath, which appeared to be damaged. In another Biders was holding up a flower to Rupieks’ face. Both men were smiling.

On 13 May Biders was arrested. He told police they had been drinking since 3pm on Liberation Day. His girlfriend had wanted a photo taken with the wreath and they had done that at the War Memorial. When they put the wreath back down it was still intact. He and his girlfriend then walked off. When Rupieks picked up the wreath and began to follow them he had not though it a good idea. As they got to Le Febvre Street he heard a bang and presumed Rupieks had dropped it.

For Biders, Advocate Liam Roffey said the case had attracted a great deal of media attention. There was public consternation and anger that the wreath had been destroyed but, importantly, neither defendant was charged with doing that. His client knew the wreath was connected to Liberation Day, but at the time did not appreciate what the day meant to people and the emotional harm it would cause. His client featured in two of the photos and he had requested neither.

He was a young man who had got caught up in an act of drunken stupidity and he wished to convey his sincere apologies for all concerned.

For Rupieks, Advocate Phoebe Cobb said this was an unusual set of circumstances surrounding an offence of disorderly behaviour, which was aggravated by the sentimental aspect of the wreath.

Her client had followed the others as he had wanted his photo taken with the wreath too and his intention had been to take it back. Somebody then knocked it out of his hand - he did not know who - so he left it where it was.

He would have been prepared to be a prosecution witness in the case, not to downplay his role but to ensure that the truth came out.

Counsel said comments made on social media relating to this incident had give police concern over the safety of the defendants.

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