'Mindless thugs' vandalise 21 graves at Derry cemetery
Vandals who smashed 20 headstones and memorials at Londonderry's City Cemetery in an overnight attack have been branded "mindless thugs".
The culprits sparked outrage and widespread condemnation after some of the oldest gravestones in the cemetery were vandalised.
It is understood a total of 21 graves were desecrated in the attack which has left at least half of the headstones lying smashed and beyond repair.
SDLP councillor John Boyle described the attack as "a new low".
He said: "This was an act of vandalism in the extreme which has desecrated the final resting place of the loved ones of at least 20 families.
"Some of these headstones have remained undisturbed and respected for around 150 years until these mindless thugs carried out this act of unadulterated destruction.
"The City Cemetery is a place of sanctity and is regarded as such by every right-thinking person on the planet.
"So many people tracing their family history come here to this very part of the cemetery hoping to spend time at the grave of their ancestor. How would anyone feel looking at one of these headstones, it is an absolute disgrace and a new low in vandalism." The City Cemetery is owned and maintained by Derry City and Strabane District Council.
A spokeswoman for the Council said: "A number of graves at the City Cemetery have been damaged overnight in an act of indiscriminate vandalism and anti-social behaviour.
"The incident, which is deeply regrettable and distressing for everyone involved, has been reported to the PSNI who are investigating the matter.
"We would like to reassure the public that appropriate steps are being taken to address the problem and that security at the facility is currently being reviewed.
"The Council is mindful that the cemetery is a place of rest and we would encourage the public to be respectful at all times.
"Staff are currently carrying out a clean-up of the area and we are working with the PSNI to review security measures in an effort to combat this problem."
Sinn Fein Foyle MLA, Raymond McCartney, added: "This act of wanton vandalism in the City Cemetery is appalling and sickening.
"More than 20 headstones and memorials were damaged and this will no doubt cause a great deal of distress to grieving families.
"Families can draw a great deal of comfort from visiting the grave of a loved one and for anyone to carry out such an act of vandalism is beyond belief.
"I would call on anyone with information on this attack to bring it forward to the PSNI."
Appealing for information, PSNI Inspector Jennifer Hudson said: "At this time it is believed that approximately 20 headstones and memorials have been damaged.
"This will obviously cause distress to a number of families and the local community, therefore I would appeal to anyone with any information about this to contact Strand Road police station on the non-emergency number 101.
"Or if someone would prefer to provide information without giving their details, they can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers and speak to them anonymously on 0800 555 111."