Thieves steal from Norwich children’s graves

Cemetery patrols are being stepped up in Norwich after a string of thefts of keepsakes from children's graves.

The Evening News has learned that graves at Earlham Cemetery and Longwater Lane Cemetery in Costessey have been targeted by thieves and vandals in the last few weeks.

Parents have arrived at their children's resting place to discover snow globes smashed, teddy bears stolen and toy cars taken.

Police have also issued a warning to criminals, reminding people that cemeteries are sensitive places where people go to remember and pay tribute to their loved ones.

One of the recent crimes saw two small teddy bears, two small five-inch square Liverpool flags, a vase and a small gold-coloured football trophy stolen from a grave in Earlham Cemetery.

Meanwhile, a large pink teddy, a mirrored wind chime, snow globes and an angel ornament were stolen from the neighbouring grave of Grace Jay who was stillborn just before Christmas and buried in January.

Her mum Natasha Jay, who lives in Anthony Drive, Sprowston, said she was 'angry' and 'upset' to discover the thefts.

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The 29-year-old mum-of-four, who lives with her partner Aaron Jay, said: 'I went to see her and noticed two pink big crystals had been stolen which really upset me and now loads of stuff has been taken. How could someone steal from a baby's grave?

'You can tell it's the babies' area. I don't know how people can do it. Grace hasn't even been up there long. It's hard to deal with. I thought she would be all right there - I thought she would have a little garden for me to put stuff on, not for them to be stolen off the grave. It's disgusting.'

Ms Jay said that her daughter's headstone is not the only one to have been targeted and that a lot of parents are now too frightened to put anything on their children's graves in case they get stolen.

Meanwhile, James Blevins and his former partner Stacey Beal, who lost their son Billy seven years ago, said keepsakes had also been stolen from his grave at Longwater Lane Cemetery.

Mr Blevins, 41, who lives in City Road, Lakenham, and whose son died aged just 22 months old from a hole in his heart, said: 'We go up there as often as we can and every time we go, something is missing.

'It's not happened to just Billy's graves but all the graves there. You shouldn't have to be going up there thinking that something is going to be missing - it's a sacred place.'

Ms Beal, 30, who lives in Costessey, added: 'It's heartbreaking, they are sentimental things. Billy was our everything. He was a special little boy and was loved so much. I don't want it happening again.'

Elsewhere, an incident was also reported at St Faith Crematorium in Horsham St Faith, Norwich. Glennis Abbott, who lives in Woodland Road, Hellesdon, said she visited the crematorium on the anniversary of her mother's death to find that her plaque had been stolen.

A Norfolk police spokesman said they were unable to tell how many grave-related offences took place in a year but that Safer Neighbourhood Teams were continuing to monitor the situation.

She said: 'Offences committed in cemeteries are heartless crimes involving gravestones of those dearly loved by their families and friends.

'In each individual case we make every effort to find those responsible and they will be dealt with in a robust manner. In order to catch the perpetrators of these crimes the police need information so we would urge members of the public to report anything suspicious.

'We would appeal to the better nature of those responsible who may not be aware how distressing this can be. We would also ask visitors to cemeteries to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious activity or anti-social behaviour.'

A Norwich City Council spokesman said they were taking steps to tackle the offences at Earlham Cemetery.

She said: 'We can only imagine the upset caused to relatives and loved ones by the mindless theft of items from babies graves.

'To help address the problem we have asked wardens to step up patrols in the area. We understand there is also concern about damage to a section of railings at the cemetery which has left a gap. We will be fixing a panel across the gap as a temporary measure ahead of installing a replacement section of railing.'

She said CCTV cameras would be impractical in these kind of circumstances.

Vivienne Bell, chairman of Costessey Parish Council, which is in charge of the Longwater Lane Cemetery, said they had not been aware of the incidents but urged concerned families to get in touch with the parish council.

In other parts of the country, councils have banned sentimental tributes on new graves. Rossendale Council in Lancashire revealed plans to ban the keepsakes in March this year, saying it was 'difficult' to tend to the grass around them and keep the cemeteries neat.

To report a theft or suspicious behaviour at a cemetery, contact Norfolk police on 0845 456 4567 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

To report incidents at Longwater Lane Cemetery to Costessey Parish Council, call 01603 742958.

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