Republican graffiti etched on graves 'utterly appalling'
The etching of republican slogans into gravestones has been condemned as an appalling attack on the entire community.
Pro-IRA graffiti was also daubed over a number of headstones at a cemetery on the grounds of a former Church of Ireland in Cookstown, Co Tyrone. Other damage included anti-police slogans scraped into tombstones.
The letters UTH – standing for 'up the hoods' – was also carved into one stone.
The attack took place shortly after 3.30am yesterday and is thought to have been spotted almost immediately as the church is on a prominent and highly visible site which is well illuminated at night.
The church on the site and adjoining graveyard have not been used for several years.
Police said they were treating the incident at the Drum Road as a sectarian hate crime.
Ulster Unionist MLA Sandra Overend said she was "utterly appalled".
"This is first and foremost and attack on the families of those who are buried there, and my sympathies are with them at this time, but it is also an attack on the entire community in Mid-Ulster who have been let down by these mindless thugs," she said.
"It is shocking to think that these types of crimes are still being carried out."
Ulster Unionist councillor Trevor Wilson said he was shocked by the attack.
"Graveyards have always been a place of sanctuary," he said.
"They have always been respected.
"The church is lit up and is on the main road so it was a brazen attack.
"It will be hard for the relatives."
A police spokesman said: "At around 3.35am it was reported a number of gravestones in the area had been damaged.
"It is believed that graffiti was spray painted and scraped onto the gravestones.
"At this stage, police are treating the incident as a hate crime."
Two men, aged 19, two aged 20 and a further two aged 21 were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage.
Four of those held were later released unconditionally.
A 21-year-old and 20-year-old received cautions for minor drug offences.
None of those arrested is being linked to the damage to the graves.
Meanwhile, police in Newry have appealed for information regarding a separate hate crime at a house in Orchard Hill, Warrenpoint.
PSNI constable Danielle Moffett said: "It was believed that sectarian graffiti had been daubed on a gable wall of a house in the area.
"At this stage, police are treating the incident as a hate crime".
He added: "Inquiries are continuing."