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Victoria Cross grave 'was damaged by lawnmower'

By Richard Guttridge | Brierley Hill | News | Published:

Damage to the grave of a Victoria Cross war hero is believed to have been caused by a council lawnmower, it has emerged.

Police have revealed that they are now not treating the damage to Colour Sergeant Anthony Booth’s grave at St Michael’s Church, Brierley Hill, as a crime.

But a spokesperson for Dudley Council said the authority had not received any reports from its maintenance teams saying the grave had been damaged by them.

West Midlands Police spokeswoman Lara Horsley said: “Police are not investigating a damaged grave in St Michael’s Church in Brierley Hill any further as it is believed the damage was caused accidentally by a council lawnmower.”

Councillor Karen Shakespeare, cabinet member for environmental services at the council, said: “We have no evidence to suggest that this was damaged by a lawnmower and we have had no reports from our staff.

“This is a very important memorial paying tribute to a local hero and we would urge anyone with any information to come forward as soon as possible.”

Rev David Hoskin, from the church, said he did not know how the damage had occurred but that it was not unheard of for lawnmowers to hit graves.

He said: “It can happen. It is a fairly small manoeuvring area. But if it had been I would have hoped it would have been mentioned and reported.

“It’s an isolated area. I wouldn’t have thought people could have got to that point.

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“Any damage in a churchyard is disappointing, however it happens. The important thing is it is being brought back to the condition it should be.”

The headstone was found to have been knocked over last week. The Victoria Cross Trust initially said the grave had been desecrated by vandals, causing widespread outrage.

More than £3,000 was raised in just a few days to help fund the restoration of the grave of the Zulu War hero, who lived in Brierley Hill, after an appeal was launched by the trust, which relies solely on donations.

However, trust chief executive, Gary Stapleton said yesterday there was no evidence to confirm how the memorial came to be damaged.

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He said: “It is one of the theories being bandied about but there is no evidence either way.

“There is no evidence to say it was vandals and there is no way to say it was a lawnmower, runaway horses or any other theory. If it was a lawnmower why have they not admitted it? The very fact it was not reported, that’s desecration by vandalism as far as I’m concerned even though it’s not seen as a criminal thing.”

A member of Dudley’s Royal British Legion put up a £2,000 reward when it was thought that the damage was done by vandals.

Branch chairman Malcolm Davis said: “They have the ear pads on and it is possible the worker might have inflicted damage and not known about it. If they did it and they knew about it I think it’s terrible they didn’t report it and they ought to look more closely at who is looking after the graves.”

Col Sgt Booth, of William Street, was awarded the Victoria Cross at Windsor Castle by Queen Victoria in recognition of the bravery he showed leading his men to safety after coming under attack from Zulu warriors during the 19th century conflict.

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
@RichG_star

Reporter for the Express & Star, based in Wolverhampton

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