POLICE have recovered almost 500 bronze vases stolen from a Unanderra crematorium on Thursday.
The Wollongong City Memorial Gardens and Crematorium was targeted early on Thursday morning, with thieves removing small flower vases attached to memorial plaques.
Inspector Paul Allman, of Lake Illawarra police, said a targeted police operation had yielded information late on Thursday night, which led officers to an Illawarra metal dealer, where the vases were recovered.
Information from that dealer then directed police to a Wollongong address, where a 46-year-old man and a woman were asked to assist police with inquiries.
"The thieves targeted scrap-metal merchants but the ability to offload such material is quite low," Insp Allman said.
He said police had special powers in relation to scrapyards, including the ability to search and inspect their books.
Insp Allman said the total weight of the stolen vases was about 50 kilograms. An Illawarra scrap metal dealer told the Mercury on Thursday that even highest-quality bronze would only fetch about $4.50 per kilogram.
"This kind of crime was maximum heartache for minimum financial gain ... the theft was not of great value," Insp Allman said.
Police initially said 477 vases had been stolen, and damage was thought to be limited to two memorial walls and an ex-servicemen's remembrance area.
However, further inspections at the crematorium yesterday found that the number of stolen vases was closer to 500, with vases also found to have been stolen from areas towards the back of the garden.
Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said many of the vases could be simply screwed back on to the memorial plaques but almost 50 plaques were damaged when the vases were torn off the wall and might have to be replaced.
"We are looking to work with families to restore the plaques," Cr Bradbery said.
A sign at the crematorium said Wollongong City Council was dealing with manufacturers to replace the memorial plaques at a reduced cost.
"To violate the sacred space of a memorial is a low act, and we are looking at stepping up security here," he said.
President of the Wollongong RSL sub-branch Peter Poulton said assistance was available to families of ex-servicemen whose plaques were damaged or affected.
"If they have difficulty in replacing the plaques, the RSL will help," he said.
"These thieves are the scum of the earth."
Insp Allman said the possibility of further arrests had not been ruled out.