METAL thieves have stolen grave markers from a cemetery in a raid that has been branded a “despicable act”.
Twenty-four cast iron Victorian markers were taken from Sunderland Cemetery, in Grangetown, causing significant damage to the site.
The markers, which each weigh about 14kg, were installed to identify grave locations.
They were sunk deep below the turf to secure them, meaning the thieves had to dig out a lot of earth to steal them.
Councillor James Blackburn, Sunderland Council’s portfolio holder for attractive and inclusive city, said: “This really is a despicable act. How anyone could stoop so low as to steal from a cemetery beggars belief.
“I would appeal to anyone who saw anything suspicious in the cemetery on Wednesday evening to contact the police. And I’d also urge any local scrap metal dealers who are approached by someone trying to sell these markers to report it as a matter of urgency.”
Neighbourhood Inspector John Connolly, from Northumbria Police, said: “We’re working with scrap metal yards throughout the area and asking dealers to be extra vigilant.
“If anyone brings the grave markers into their yard, we’d urge them to contact police.
“We also want to hear from anyone who may have seen anything or may have any information.”
Metal theft has become a major problem across the North East.
Sunderland Cemetery has been targeted previously.
Last year, Anthony Roberts, 18, and John Ferguson, 37, walked free from court after they admitted they had sold a precious war memorial for scrap.
The £15,000 plaque from the cemetery commemorated 57 civilian victims of bombing raids on Sunderland during the Second World War.
Roberts, of Greta Terrace, High Barnes, said he had found the metal plaque lying on grassland while he was out on a fishing trip in September 2010.
He drafted in Ferguson, of Athol Road, Hendon, to help him sell it to a Pallion scrap firm, where it was traded in for £124.
The pair admitted handling stolen goods and received suspended prison terms – Roberts for nine months and and Ferguson for six months.
Anyone with any information about the grave markers, which happened overnight on Wednesday, should contact Northumbria Police on 101 ext 69191 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.