Police investigate after 300-year-old Jewish cemetery in Kent desecrated on Rosh Hashanah

The attackers, who smashed a number of graves, are believed to have used sledgehammers


Police are investigating the desecration of 300-year-old Jewish cemetery in Kent, with a number of shattered gravestones believed to have been smashed with sledgehammers.

Members of the Chatham Memorial Synagogue in Rochester discovered the damage to the cemetery hours before Yom Kippur. It is unclear when the cemetery was vandalised, but it is believed it could have happened as far back as two weeks before, before Rosh Hashana.

Dalia Halpern-Matthews, chair of trustees at the synagogue, told the Daily Mail that the damage was “quite appalling”, describing how, as well as damage to a number of graves, the gate to the cemetery had been ripped off, despite it being “already open. It was damage for damage’s sake.”

This is not the first time the community has been targeted – past incidents have seen swastikas daubed and the entrance to the Shul smeared with excrement.

Ms Halpern-Matthews said all the incidents had happened since the Brexit referendum in 2016. She blamed the rise in attacks on the vote, as well as inflammatory language used by politicians which, she told the paper, had given people “permission to hate”.

But she said the Jewish community had received a a lot of support from locals in the wake of the latest attack. 

But she said the lack of CCTV cameras at the Grade II listed site itself, as well as a lack of any specific antisemitic imagery left at the scene this time, left were pessimistic about the chances of anyone being prosecuted.

Chief Inspector Ian Dyball, the local Kent Police district commander, said: “The investigation is ongoing and a number of enquiries have been carried out including reviewing CCTV in the area.

"We are also working with those responsible for the cemetery and offering crime prevention advice."

He said that this type of incident was “thankfully very rare but I appreciate the impact it has had on the local community.

"Local patrols will continue to monitor the area and if anyone has any concerns I would encourage them to speak to the officers and PCSOs when they see them.”

Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies, described how “this disgraceful antisemitic vandalism will cause huge upset to the families of those buried in the cemetery and to all right-thinking people.

"The low lives who perpetrated this hateful attack should face the full force of the law.”

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