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Fury as thieves steal Bronte church's historic gravestones in Thornton
Thieves have desecrated a historic cemetery with Bronte links by uprooting and stealing three ancient headstones which have been there for the last 200 years.
The crime, described by police as despicable, is believed to have been committed to get at the Yorkshire stone.
It has led to condemnation by councillors responsible for the district’s heritage, who described it as “sickening” and blasted the vandals who are “throwing away hundreds of years of history”.
Police patrolled the Old Bell Chapel, also known as the Bronte Bell Chapel, opposite St James Church on Thornton Road, Thornton, on Saturday night after fears were raised that the vandals would return for more stone slabs they had already removed from sacred resting places and stacked up in the cemetery.
The damage was discovered on Saturday morning by church warden Steven Stanworth, who said he was left sickened. He now faces the task of trying to find out who the headstones belonged to and contacting family members with the harrowing news.
The stones were taken between 9pm on Friday and 8am on Saturday.
Mr Stanworth said that on Thursday night, thieves also stole up to 30 metres of Yorkshire Stone from the pathway, making it dangerous for the public to walk on.
“It is absolutely disgraceful and disgusting,” he said. “One of the headstones was next to the grave of author Joseph Lister, who was a friend of Lord Fairfax’s and was involved in the Siege of Bradford in 1642.
“It is a graveyard. We have had vandalism before but nothing like this. We have no chance of recovering it and how do you put a price on something like that which is 200 years old?
“A historic part of the ground has been taken and desecrated and they must be sick to do this.
“There is no respect for life or death. This is part of our social history they have no idea what they are doing and must be morons.”
Mr Stanworth believes taking the stones would need four men, adding that a jemmy had been left at the site.
On Thursday night in between the church and the chapel, Mr Stanworth said that 30 metres of Yorkshire stone were taken from the Bronte Way and stone has also gone from the chapel wall.
“I need to raise awareness with the people living around here, because we can’t allow this to happen,” he added.
It comes just months after Yorkshire stone was taken from the grounds of Bolling Hall Museum, while thieves also took an 1870s bell that had been sitting in pride of place at Manningham Mills last month.
Councillor Val Slater, Heritage Champion for Bradford Council, said it was terrible news, while Coun Susan Hinchcliffe, the portfolio holder for tourism, said: “Incidents like this are sickening.
“The Old Bell Chapel has a strong significance to the Bronte story, a major tourist draw for the Bradford district. For minimal short term gain, people who commit these crimes throw away hundreds of years of history.”
Detective Inspector Mark Long, of Airedale and North Bradford CID, called it a “despicable act which would cause great offence in the local community”.
“Unfortunately there are no positive lines of enquiry at this time despite investigations, so we appeal to anyone who has information and furthermore, to any local stone masons who are offered what are clearly gravestones, to contact us,” he added.
“Any new leads to identify and catch those responsible will be followed up and information should be passed to the North Bradford Neighbourhood Policing Team on 101.”