Security patrols are to be stepped up at the City Cemetery in Derry after a number of graves were attacked.
Several families reported vandalism of loved ones’ graves this week.
It’s also been claimed that young people are gathering at the cemetery for drinking sessions.
These gangs have been blamed for the vandalism.
Derry City and Strabane District Council have said that they are aware of issues regarding young people causing trouble within the cemetery grounds, and will now be stepping up its patrols.
The news comes ahead of this weekend’s Cemetery Sunday, where thousands of people will visit the area for the annual Blessing of the Graves service.
The Derry News has learned that a number of local families were left upset after visiting the graves of loved ones this week where they discovered damage to the graves.
In one incident, flowers left at a grave on Father’s Day had been stolen.
The families have blamed young people gathering at the lower part of the cemetery at the weekends for the damage.
The Derry News spoke to one local woman, Gemma Bradley, whose infant daughter’s grave is located at that section in the grounds.
She said that the incidents of vandalism heighten during the summer months, particularly during spells of good weather.
“It’s not nice calling up to visit your wain’s grave and find that someone has placed an empty beer can on top of the headstone,” she told the Derry News.
“People should be able to visit the graves of their loved ones without having to worry about having to clean it up.
“How would these people like it if someone did that to a grave of one of their family? It just comes down to a total lack of respect on their behalf.”
Gemma added that she no longer likes leaving items at her daughter’s grave for fear of them being stolen or damaged.
She continued that she had also taken the matter up with staff at the cemetery.
“I was given assurances that the security would be keeping a check on things, but there’s been more vandalism,” he said.
“More needs to be done to stop this, but the people doing it really need to have a bit more respect for the dead.”
The independent councillor for the area Gary Donnelly added that he had been contacted by a number of families angry about the situation and latest incidents of vandalism.
“People are very annoyed about this, and there seems to be an ongoing issue at the cemetery as we saw previously with the theft of strimmers and gardening equipment, which were thanfully recovered,” he said.
“It seems to be that council may be playing this issue down a bit, but it is a problem that needs to be addressed.”
Cllr Donnelly added: “If there are to be additional security measures at the cemetery, then they should be conducted in a way that doesn’t impact on people wishing to pay their respects to their loved ones in a quiet and dignified manner.”
A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council said that it is aware of ongoing issues with young people involved in antisocial behaviour and is working closely with the relevant bodies including the PSNI to address the issue.
“The Council has increased patrols of the area by their community safety wardens and would like to reassure the public that every effort is made to ensure that the appropriate steps are being taken to combat any issues,” the spokesperson said.
“The Council is mindful that the Cemetery is a place for quiet reflection and should be treated with respect by all members of the community. “
The spokesperson added that the council would also welcome any information from members of the public which would help prevent anti-social activity.
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