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£500 reward to catch the gravestone vandals as son speaks of heartache at Earlham Cemetery wrecking spree

PUBLISHED: 11:38 04 January 2013 | UPDATED: 11:40 04 January 2013

Joseph and Elizabeth Smith with family graves vandalised in Earlham Cemetery at New Year.  Photo: Bill Smith

Joseph and Elizabeth Smith with family graves vandalised in Earlham Cemetery at New Year. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2013

The Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News are today offering a £500 reward for information which leads to the conviction of vandals who smashed 17 gravestones at a city cemetery and crematorium.

Bereaved families had a heartbreaking start to the new year when the heartless vandals attacked the three gravestones at a family plot in Earlham Cemetery and 14 headstones in Earlham Crematorium.

On Wednesday morning staff at the cemetery discovered three memorials had been smashed in the western area of the cemetery off Farrow Road.

And in the memorial garden of the crematorium headstones, including that of a nine-year-old child and a 92-year-old man, were attacked.

Joseph Smith was called by his cousin on Wednesday about the damage and drove from his home in Cambridge to Norwich.

Shattered stones, a broken angel’s head and a smashed Jesus now lay where flowers and figurines once stood in proud memory of his father, grandfather and uncle.

“I’m gutted,” he said. “I don’t know what we are going to do. The damage is several thousand pounds.

“Why? What enjoyment can you get out of doing something like that? They just cause heartache and grief for the family.”

The 56-year-old’s father and grandfather, both called Joseph, were buried in the plot in 1984 and 1968.

His grandmother, Violet, was added to his grandfather’s plot in 1991 and his uncle Levi whose grave cost £17,000 was laid to rest in 2008.

Mr Smith’s wife Elizabeth, 55, added: “They’ve been up all these years and you don’t expect anything to happen.”

And Mr Smith questioned why the council had not locked the cemetery gates on the night of New Year’s Day, which meant the gang could walk through the cemetery and crematorium unchallenged.

The cemetery is normally locked every night, but was left open over the New Year break.

A spokesman for Norwich City Council said: “We find it very sad that a minority of people took it upon themselves to vandalise some of the memorials and show such careless disregard for all that cemeteries stand for and we sympathise with the families involved. We asked our contractor to leave the cemetery gates open over the New Year period so that people could pay their respects at any time.

“But by their very nature, cemeteries are not created to be fortresses.

“Instead, they are designed to be accessible, dignified and peaceful places for anyone who has lost a loved one and wants to pay their respects.”

Police said the damage at the crematorium took place between 8.30am on New Year’s Eve and 8.30am on Wednesday, while the damage at the cemetery happened between 11am on Tuesday and 10.45am on Wednesday.

The vandals pulled the headstones down and kicked them, while two large marble angels between 6ft and 8ft tall and a smaller 4ft angel at Mr Smith’s family plot were pushed over and smashed. Yesterday, all but one of the stones in the crematorium had been stood upright again, but the headstones remain loose.

A stonemason is visiting the crematorium today to repair the damage.

Norwich policing commander supt Paul Sanford described the culprits as “heartless”.

He said: “We take these types of offences extremely seriously and in each case will make every effort to find those responsible.

“We need the public’s help in order to do this and I would urge anyone who may have witnessed people acting suspiciously in the area to come forward.”

A spokesman for Dignity, which manages the crematorium, said: “We have tried to contact all the clients concerned and have managed to speak to all but one of the families.

“We understand the distress that this senseless act will cause our clients and we will meet all of the stonemason’s costs in restoring these memorials.”

•Anyone with information should contact officers at Earlham Police Station on 101, or call Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.

As well as the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News reward, Mr Smith is also offering a substantial reward for information leading to the arrests and convictions of those responsible for the damage to his family’s memorials.

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