THE family of a 15-month-old girl was left heartbroken after her grave was desecrated when vandals struck at a Pennington churchyard.
Heads were cut off roses and their remains were strewn across baby Lilie-Mae Thorn’s grave on Monday – a day after a memorial bench dedicated to a local parishioner was also wrecked in the grounds of St Mark’s Church on Ramley Road.
Lilie-Mae’s step-grandmother Karen O’Callaghan had placed the 20 blooms in two separate vases last Tuesday to mark the 10th anniversary of her death.
Speaking to the A&T on Tuesday, Mrs O’Callaghan spoke of her shock and disgust at having discovered they had been damaged. She had to pass on the news to Lilie-Mae’s parents, Michelle and Robert Thorn, who live in Southampton.
“I was so cross and so upset, sitting outside the church this morning,” she said. “I have spoken to her mother today and she is extremely upset.
“I just can’t understand the mentality of people. It really doesn’t make any sense. It seems that in Lymington and Pennington we have a class of people who seem to think it’s OK and they have a God-given right to do this sort of thing.”
Parishioners leaving the church after evensong on Sunday evening discovered the damage to the bench, but Lilie-Mae’s family believe her grave was targeted after this.
Mrs O’Callaghan speculated that the offenders may have used scissors or secateurs on the roses as the heads had been “clean cut”. She called for people to come forward if they might have any information that could help police track down the vandals.
“Someone must know something because people talk,” she said. “If you’re a vandal, you’re most likely going to brag about what you’ve done to others.
“This has just left the family feeling really upset. We’re just heartbroken to think that anyone could do that to a 15-month-old child’s grave.
“I lived in London and we never had this amount of vandalism, and we never had this type of vandalism – and that’s saying something!”
Mr and Mrs Thorn have since replenished their daughter’s grave with several bunches of flowers.
The Rev. Rachel Noel, who has served at the church for five months, told the A&T the memorial bench had been targeted by vandals before. However, the latest incident has left it having to be completely replaced.
Groups of youths often gather in the churchyard and, although stressing the majority were respectful of others, the Rev. Rachel pointed out there was a disruptive element.
She explained church volunteers, many of whom are in their 70s or 80s, often have to pick up discarded rubbish which sometimes includes possible drug paraphernalia.
“The bench was often used by people who just wanted to have a nice sit down and enjoy the churchyard,” she told the A&T.
“What’s particularly sad is that they’ve destroyed the bench and trashed the flowers around the grave, which is always upsetting.”
These latest incidents come as the lychgate into the churchyard still awaits repair after being vandalised a few months ago.
The offences have prompted the church to look into having CCTV cameras installed at the site. However, the Rev. Rachel vowed efforts would continue to be made to ensure the churchyard is a welcoming place for everyone to visit.
“We’re sad that there are some people locally who feel so disengaged that they do what has just happened,” she continued.
“I gather that there are some families who want to visit graves but are frightened because of what has happened. I don’t want anyone to feel frightened to visit their loved ones’ graves.
“We need the whole community to work together to make the churchyard a safe place for everyone to enjoy.”
Police investigating the vandalism are urging people to come forward if they witnessed any suspicious behaviour.
Anyone with information should contact Hampshire officers on 101, quoting crime reference number 44180435263, or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
CAPTION 1: The Rev. Rachel Noel surveys the damage to the bench
CAPTION 2: Lilie-Mae Thorn’s grave was targeted