THIEVES who stole lead and gravestones from a cemetery have been branded ‘despicable’.

Police said vandals left the Grade II listed chapel of rest at Nelson’s Walton Lane cemetery with water pouring in through the roof and at least one vault open to the elements.


PC Nigel Keates, who discovered the damage, described the theft as similar to grave robbing.

Pendle Council leader Cllr Mohammed Iqbal warned council taxpayers would be left with a bill for thousands of pounds in repairs. And tourism boss councillor Eileen Ansar said: “This is disgusting and despicable.

“It’s not just the upset it causes to friends and relatives, but the cost of putting the damage right in a cemetery important to the whole community of Nelson and Pendle.”

The 10.5 acre graveyard opened in 1895 and has a ‘Chapel of Rest’ at its centre.

It also has a special area for Muslim burials, recently the scene of the final funeral rites for ‘inspirational’ former RAF serviceman, charity fund-raiser and father-of-two Shahbaz Saleem.

PC Keates, who lives near the cemetery, was walking his four-year-old terrier Mabel when he discovered the damage.

He said: “There were two incidents of theft which occurred over the Christmas New Year period at Walton Lane Cemetery in Nelson.

“One involved the chapel building in the centre of the graveyard where lead and slates have been removed from the roof of the building.

“The damage this theft has caused may cost thousands to correct as the result is not just missing lead, but water pouring in, which can be difficult to repair in an old building.

“There has also been theft of stone slabs from graves at the cemetery, with one vault having had the sandstone slab on top completely removed leaving it open to the weather.

“It’s not quite grave-robbing but its a despicable crime.

“It’s outrageous to do this type of damage to one of Nelson and Pendle’s biggest cemeteries.

“I would appeal to anyone who has seen anything or is offered old sandstone slabs for the garden to contact the police.

“Similarly anyone offered the sort of thick, old lead used on the chapel roof should do the same.

“Sadly there are criminals who choose to steal items like this from churches, graveyards and heritage buildings.

“It is outrageous and they clearly do not care about the consequences or the distress they cause.”

Cllr Iqbal said: “It is a despicable, disgusting and shameful crime to target a cemetery important to so many people.

“It will cause great distress to relatives and friends of the deceased buried there and especially to those connected with the graves affected.

“Clearly we will have to make good the damage but it will leave our council taxpayers with a bill running into thousands of pounds.

“I was at Shabhaz Saleem’s moving funeral there just before Christmas and there was no sign of the damage then so they thieves clearly went into the cemetery over the quiet festive period when there were no burials.

“Anyone offered old stones for the garden or thick Victorian lead should report it to the police or council.”

PC Keates said: “My appeal is for vigilance at not only graveyards but also churches as they regularly suffer from thefts.

“As a community let’s catch the thieves. It’s our heritage, it’s our loved ones, it’s our community.

“Undoubtedly there are other cemeteries, churches and heritage buildings across Pendle that have been or may be targets for the future.”