Vandals break into chapel in historic Portsmouth cemetery

Thieves smash into vehicles parked at leisure centres

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VANDALS have broken into a cemetery chapel twice in one week, causing damage and stealing displays.

Friends of Highland Road Cemetery members have called the vandalism ‘mindless’.

Sandra Butler (68) trustee of the Friends of Highland Road Cemetery, next to the doors on the chapel which have been damaged.''Picture: Sarah Standing (141320-4856) PPP-140516-222759001

Sandra Butler (68) trustee of the Friends of Highland Road Cemetery, next to the doors on the chapel which have been damaged.''Picture: Sarah Standing (141320-4856) PPP-140516-222759001

Group chairman Pat Coakley said he was devastated by the break-ins.

He said: ‘This is a cemetery and it’s consecrated ground – what possible interest could it have to them?

‘I don’t think these people appreciate just how much work went into it, and I can’t possibly think what they are planning to do with the displays.’

Vandals broke into a conformist chapel near the cemetery entrance on the night of Wednesday, May 7.

They forced their way in, causing more than £100 of damage to the door, and stole a 3m by 3m green pop-up gazebo from inside.

The chapel was again broken into the following Saturday night.

This time the culprits stole displays telling the stories of people buried at the cemetery as well as minor items including a dust pan and brush, a roll of kitchen paper, a pot of velcro and two tablecloths.

Mr Coakley said: ‘They took some other things including a donation box that didn’t have any money in it.’

Not content with the haul, the vandals also threw things around the chapel, threw a brick through a window and let off a fire extinguisher.

Mr Coakley said they must have come over the fence after the gates were locked at 7pm.

A nonconformist chapel at the cemetery was also broken into on the same nights, but nothing was taken since that chapel was already empty.

Friends member Sandra Butler said the group’s co-founder, Helen Strange, had worked hard on the information boards that were stolen.

Ms Butler said: ‘We had information about Charles Dickens and his lady friends, who are in the cemetery.

‘There was also information about a watchman from the Titanic, who’s buried here, and eight VCs.’

But Ms Butler said Ms Strange was able to replace the information boards in time for a tour of the cemetery last Sunday.

A spokesman for Portsmouth City Council, which owns the chapel buildings, said: ‘No graves or headstones were touched so that was evidently not the objective of the vandals.

‘They were evidently thinking they might find something of value in the chapel but they did not.’