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‘I just wanted to cry’ - remembrance books with decades of messages to lost loved ones stolen from Norfolk crematorium

PUBLISHED: 18:22 02 January 2018 | UPDATED: 07:54 03 January 2018

Karen Walford, crematorium manager, with the smashed cabinet which housed one of the two Remembrance books  stolen from Earlham Cemetery. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Karen Walford, crematorium manager, with the smashed cabinet which housed one of the two Remembrance books stolen from Earlham Cemetery. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2018

Poignant messages penned to lost parents, children, husbands and wives in moments of grief over the last 50 years have been stolen from a crematorium.

A Remembrance book similar to the two books stolen from Earlham Cemetery. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYA Remembrance book similar to the two books stolen from Earlham Cemetery. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Two Books of Remembrance containing thousands of personal messages and illustrations from as far back as the 1960s - inscribed by a calligrapher as a permanent memorial - have been taken from Earlham Crematorium in Norwich.

The callous act in a place where many pay respects every day is likely to distress families around the country who chose to honour their loved one in a heartfelt message.

Police in Norwich believe that on Sunday, December 31 offenders smashed a glass cabinet housing the books with a rock, before pushing it on its front. They also took seven ornaments from graves, but these were later found in a bag.

Elaine Free phoned police after discovering the damage as she collected cards left for her daughter, who died six years ago and whose name is in one of the books, at about 11am.

“At first I just wanted to cry,” she said. “How could people do that? People want to go there to remember and talk to their friends and family. It’s so awful.”

A spokesman for Dignity, which runs the crematorium, said its team was “shocked” by what had happened - but that if the books were not recovered, they would be replaced at no cost to families.

The smashed cabinet which housed one of the two Remembrance books  stolen from Earlham Cemetery. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe smashed cabinet which housed one of the two Remembrance books stolen from Earlham Cemetery. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“They contain decades of personal memories to loved ones who have passed away and it’s clear such an act could distress many families,” they said.

“We are unaware of a similar incident ever happening at any of the other 300 crematoria in the UK.”

The treasured books had been on display in the Book of Remembrance Room on-site, which has now been temporarily closed. The room, which is also home to flowers and memorial vases and ornaments, is usually open during the day, allowing families to pay their respects and mark anniversaries.

Earlham Crematorium, Norwich.
Picture by SIMON FINLAY.Earlham Crematorium, Norwich. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

There are four books in total, organised in three-monthly blocks. The stolen ones covered October to March over the last few decade, while the remaining two - covering the rest of the year - were being stored in a nearby office.

The books are heavy - a calligrapher must visit them every time a new message needs to be added. Families can choose to pay to have a personal message inscribed when a loved one dies.

If you have information, contact PC Jay Puttock on 101.

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