Northern Ireland

Vandalised Commonwealth war graves repair bill totals £17k

War graves Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption The headstones of a number of war graves were smashed in October in Belfast City Cemetery

Repairing Commonwealth war graves damaged by vandals in Belfast City Cemetery in the last year will cost almost £17,000, the BBC has learned.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) said 26 graves were affected, including a number that were smashed in October.

The war graves commemorate more than 560 people killed during World War One and World War Two.

The CWGC said it was disgusted by the recent acts of vandalism.

It said the full scale of the damage has now been evaluated and restoration of the 26 affected graves will take place "as soon as the situation allows".

'Absolutely despicable'

"The incidents have been reported to the authorities and the CWGC is extremely grateful for the strong moral and practical support it has received," the organisation said, in a statement to the BBC.

"The CWGC will continue to work with the local community and authorities to monitor the situation and is fully supportive of their efforts to address the anti-social behaviour at the cemetery."

The associated costs for the repairs are £495 per headstone and £155 per installation, according to the CWGC, bringing the full cost to £16,900.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Police said the behaviour has left "individuals, families and communities distraught"

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said that while no arrests have been made, investigations continue.

"Damage to any grave is absolutely despicable," said Ch Insp Gary Reid.

"A graveyard is a place where people come to pay their respects, and this behaviour and destruction has left individuals, families and communities distraught."

He added the police had received "heartening support" from the local community and statutory agencies.

Belfast City Council said it is committed to working with the PSNI and engaging with the local community to address anti-social behaviour and criminal damage at the cemetery.

"We have also deployed officers from our safer neighbourhoods team at key times to deter groups of people gathering in the cemetery and engaging in anti-social behaviour," a spokesman said.

"As part of our city cemetery heritage project, we are planning to create a new visitor centre and improve facilities. It is hoped the increased footfall will also help to deter vandalism."

Information released by Belfast City Council, under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that two war graves were also damaged in 2018.

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