POLICE are continuing to patrol an historic graveyard closely linked to the Bronte family after thieves desecrated it, stealing three ancient headstones which have been there for the past 200 years.
The damage at the Old Bell Chapel, also known as the Bronte Bell Chapel, opposite St James Church on Thornton Road, Bradford, was discovered over the weekend with police branding the theft “despicable”.
Up to 30 metres of Yorkshire stone was also stolen from a pathway in the graveyard next to the chapel where Patrick Bronte was minister between 1815 and 1820 before moving to nearby Haworth.
Officers patrolled the chapel on Saturday night after fears were raised the thieves would return for more stone slabs they had already removed and stacked up in the cemetery.
And last night, West Yorkshire Police said its officers would continue to pay special attention to the site during regular patrols.
Ann Dinsdale, acting director of the Bronte Society, condemned the thefts and said numerous sites connected to the family have been targeted in recent years, including Haworth Church which has had lead stripped from its roof.
“People need to be really vigilant, because when it is gone, it is gone,” she told the Yorkshire Post. “I just don’t know how you go about educating people that this is part of their heritage they are destroying.”
One of the headstones stolen was next to the grave of famous author Joseph Lister, who was a friend of Lord Fairfax and was involved in the Siege of Bradford in the English Civil War in 1642.
The church is currently trying to establish to whom the stolen headstones belonged.
Police are appealing for information about the thefts, which took place between 9pm on Friday and 8am on Saturday.
Det Insp Mark Long, of Airedale and North Bradford CID, said: “This is quite clearly a despicable act which will cause great offence in the local community. Police are aware of the theft of Yorkshire stone and these gravestones from the church and have been in contact with officials there.
“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 stonemasons who are offered what are clearly gravestones to contact us.”
Witnesses can call 101.