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Man arrested after gravestones are damaged in Jewish cemetery

A man has been arrested after gravestones were wrecked in a Jewish cemetery in Kent.

Officers have been investigating the incident at Chatham Memorial Synagogue in Rochester as a hate crime, with the damage believed to total about £19,000.

Kent Police arrested a 41-year-old local man on suspicion of criminal damage on Friday August 25.

The damage is believed to have been caused between August 15 and August 18.

The synagogue’s chair of trustees, Dalia Halpern-Matthews, told the PA news agency that this was the fifth time the community had been targeted within the space of 10 years, with the previous last incident taking place in 2019.

She said the reaction from the community was one of “disbelief, horror, disgust”, adding: “You would like to think people have respect for other religions and for the dead, and for heritage.

“It’s a particularly significant cemetery, it’s the only one attached to a synagogue in this country.”

A statement on the synagogue’s website is also appealing for donations towards synagogue security and repairs to the cemetery.

Dr Halpern-Matthews said there are plans to re-install CCTV and improved security gates and fencing.

Superintendent Nick Sparkes, of Kent Police, said that officers were investigating the incident as a hate crime and that patrols will monitor the area.

Dr Halpern-Matthews described the Jewish community in the Medway area as “extraordinarily welcoming” and one which works a lot with the wider community.

She said: “We do a huge amount to try and break down those barriers and this kind of attack overall doesn’t diminish our desire to break down those barriers, it makes us want to fight all the harder (against) the pernicious nature of antisemitism and racism and bias.”

Mr Sparkes added: “This type of crime is thankfully very rare, but (this) has understandably caused a great deal of distress in the local community.

“We have spoken to those responsible for the cemetery and will continue to offer advice about crime prevention measures.”

The force is also continuing to appeal for witnesses to come forward or anyone who may have seen or heard the damage being caused. This includes residents and businesses with private CCTV to check for potentially relevant footage.

Anyone with information can call 01634 792209 quoting crime reference 46/152042/23.

People can also contact the charity Crimestoppers anonymously by calling 0800 555 111 or completing its web form.

To donate to the Chatham Memorial Synagogue, visit chathamshul.org.uk