Gravestone defaced in 'wilful desecration' of village churchyard south of Horsham

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A gravestone in a village churchyard south of Horsham has been defaced in what is being condemned as ‘wilful desecration.’

‘Graffiti’ has been daubed on the headstone at the 13th century St Peter’s Church in Cowfold leaving parishioners shocked and upset.

Churchwarden Aidan Favell said: “It’s very distressing and sad.

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"The churchyard and the gravestones are the history of the village and many people have relatives buried there.”

The defaced gravestone at St Peter's Church, CowfoldThe defaced gravestone at St Peter's Church, Cowfold
The defaced gravestone at St Peter's Church, Cowfold

And among them, he said, was his own adopted daughter. “To think it could have been her grave is too awful to contemplate.”

He said it appeared that noughts and crosses had been drawn on the headstone and what appeared to be male genitalia.

"It is not simply graffiti, it’s wilful desecration.”

He said a group of youths aged 12-13 had been seen in the area at the time. They were wearing jogging/track suits and were spotted by a neighbour ‘messing about’ behind the church and around a church shed.

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"A pile of kerb stones which had been stacked neatly behind the shed has been thrown around and a square corner stone appears to have been used to inscribe the graffiti,’ said Aidan.

“It is very distressing that children from Cowfold should feel that this is acceptable behaviour.

“If the children involved own up and talk to us with their parents so we can agree some form of reparation we can deal with the incident locally.

"If no one comes forward we will report the matter to the police with statements from neighbours who were aware of inappropriate behaviour, and we will pursue criminal proceedings.

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“As churchwarden I and my fellow officers are responsible in law for the protection of the churchyard and we will pursue every avenue available to us to protect this beautiful historic village asset.”

He said he would be seeking advice on how the headstone could be repaired.

Meanwhile, he said, he was heartened at people’s responses after he posted a message about what had happened on social media.

"A lot of people have taken this seriously and, if nothing else, we can ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again. “

He said if the culprits came forward and were ‘suitably contrite’ “we can move forward.”