LONDON – Greater Manchester police confirmed Saturday that they had arrested and questioned two 13-year-old boys after one of the city’s main Jewish cemeteries was seriously desecrated twice within a two-week period.
Besides Nazi slogans and swastikas being drawn on some gravestones, about 40 were toppled over in the two attacks, causing damage estimated in excess of £100,000. It is thought that the Nazi graffiti were daubed some two weeks ago, but was discovered only after police started investigating last weekend’s incident when gravestones were dislodged and damaged.
Bernard Freeman, 88, who had gone to visit his mother’s grave after he heard of the attack, discovered that not only had its headstone had been toppled, but that the graves of seven other family members had been damaged. He said he was “upset and disgusted,” adding, “To come here and find it like this, it is diabolical.
For any graveyard, this type of thing should never happen.”
Police would give no further details about the two youngsters, but admitted officers blundered after the second attack last Saturday afternoon by going to another cemetery in the same road, after being tipped off by a resident who witnessed the desecration from his window overlooking the site.
The man, who is not Jewish, told the local Jewish paper, The Jewish Telegraph, that he spotted two teenagers and an older man, possibly in his late 30s with a shaved head.
“I heard noises and thought it was part of the building work which is going on. However, I quickly realized it was a Saturday and that no work would be taking place. He added, “I had a quick look over my wall and saw two teenagers with their hands on top of the headstones, trying to pull them down. I heard another bang and saw one of them laughing and pushing the headstones. Then I called the police.”
When the police went to the wrong cemetery, they missed the opportunity to catch the vandals red handed.
The two boys, who were questioned on suspicion of committing a racially- aggravated public order offense, were released on bail until July 25.
Inspector Mike Reid described the attack on the cemetery on Rochdale Road, North Manchester, as a “sickening and cruel act of racism.”
He said the police are treating the incident as a hate crime, which allows the courts to impose harsh punishments.
“The vandalism of a gravestone is, in itself, a sickening act, but to violate the memory of those resting in the cemetery still further by daubing racial slurs on the graves is truly repulsive,” he said.
North Manchester’s Jewish Cemeteries Trust chief executive Harry Johnston called the perpetrators “feral and uneducated.” He said the community had only recently embarked on a major overhaul and upgrading of its cemeteries, spending £100,000 at Blackley alone, where some headstones date back to the early 1900. He added that in an hour someone had just ripped out their investment.
A spokesman for the Community Security Trust, which oversees the defense of the Jewish community, said the scale of the damage at Blackley was the worst they had seen in years. “We estimate that around 45 gravestones were pushed over or damaged and that would have taken a lot of effort, quite some time, and would have made a lot of noise.”
Earlier the CST reported that Manchester, with a Jewish population estimated to be around 22,000, had previously seen the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK in 2011, some 244 in all.
These exceeded those in London, which has a Jewish community seven times larger at around 150,000. However, it was noted that the last two years had seen a slow decline in incidents and attacks against Jews and Jewish property.
Manchester’s communal leaders have called for volunteers to join efforts to repair the cemetery Sunday.