Norwich's Lord Mayor has apologised to the city's Jewish community for the religious persecution triggered in the 12th century by the death of a local boy.

Dr Kevin Maguire said sorry for the way Jews had been falsely accused of murdering the 12-year-old, called William, in 1144 - and the "horrendous events" which followed.

Years later, a medieval monk called Thomas of Monmouth claimed - with no evidence - that Jews had slaughtered the boy, whose body was reportedly found at Thorpe Woods, in a ritualistic killing.

It was England's first recorded instance of a 'blood libel', which falsely accused Jews of murdering Christian boys to use their blood in religious rituals.

Similar anti-Semitic myths then sprang up across the rest of the country and Europe, with Jews wrongly accused of other child murders.

The claims triggered widespread persecution, including in Norwich.

Similar accusations were made in Gloucester, Bury St Edmunds and Bristol, leading to attacks on Jews and massacres in London and York.

Eastern Daily Press: Norwich Lord Mayor Kevin MaguireNorwich Lord Mayor Kevin Maguire (Image: Denise Bradley/Archant 2022)

Dr Maguire acknowledged the impact which blood libel allegations had on Jewish communities.

He issued his apology for Norwich's role in the spread of blood libels at the University of East Anglia's Sainsbury Centre.

Eastern Daily Press: The Sainsbury Centre in NorwichThe Sainsbury Centre in Norwich (Image: Archant)

It came after he was invited to attend a religious meal - a traditional Passover meal called a Seder - with members of the city's Jewish community.

Dr Maguire said: "William’s murder is a story for today. We apportion blame for any harms and seek to punish those who are not like us; those who do and say things differently to the way that we say or do things.

"Medieval Norwich blamed the Jews and we see the horrendous events that followed.

"Today we see other ‘not like me’ groups turned upon and blamed for shortcomings in society.

"For me, the answer is to say ‘no more’ and to work for Norwich to be free of anti-Semitism - and to counter the lies told blatantly by those who would wish to foment hate."

The Jewish Chronicle reported how, during his apology, Dr Maguire also made reference to the discovery of the remains of at least 17 people in the city, which researchers believe were Jews who had been killed and dumped down a well.

Eastern Daily Press: The remains of people believed to have been Jews who were killed in 1190 were reburied at Earlham CemeteryThe remains of people believed to have been Jews who were killed in 1190 were reburied at Earlham Cemetery (Image: Archant Norfolk)

The remains were found in 2004 during archaeological digs, as work began to build Chapelfield Shopping Centre (now Chantry Place).

Eastern Daily Press: Archaeologists on site when Chapelfield Shopping Centre was being builtArchaeologists on site when Chapelfield Shopping Centre was being built (Image: Submitted)

It had long since been suspected the bodies, including 11 children, were of suspected victims of religious persecution in the 12th century.

Researchers analysing DNA samples taken from six of these individuals found strong genetic links with modern Ashkenazi Jews.

The researchers said the findings were consistent with the bodies being the victims of an historically recorded antisemitic massacre by local crusaders and their supporters in Norwich in 1190.

In 2013, Norwich's Jewish community buried the remains at the Jewish Cemetery in Earlham Cemetery.

Dr Maguire has said he wants to take a future motion to Norwich City Council which would recognise the importance of freeing the city of intolerable behaviour, such as that which led to the blood libel.

Eastern Daily Press: Marian PrinsleyMarian Prinsley (Image: Archant 2021)

Former city sheriff Marian Prinsley, a Norfolk deputy lieutenant and a former president of the Norwich Hebrew Congregation, welcomed Dr Maguire's apology.

She said: "It was very meaningful. What's important is that this is not a one-off - that it is not a platitudinous apology for something that people cannot really apologise for.

"But what it can do is help show that Norwich is welcoming to immigrants and that the city's Jewish heritage is something which should be celebrated, rather than hidden under a bushel."

Eastern Daily Press: Author Keiron PimAuthor Keiron Pim (Image: Archant)

Author Keiron Pim, who has written about Norwich’s Jewish history, said: "It might seem a bit strange to issue an apology more than 800 years after the blood libel was invented here in Norwich, but the way to think about it is that although it started then, it didn’t end then — it hasn’t ended at all.

"It’s not history, it is part of the world today, a dangerous ancient lie that has been responsible for countless Jewish people’s murders over the centuries and continues to shape how a lot of people perceive Jews.

"Norwich is a city that is rightly proud of its generally welcoming attitude towards refugees and ‘Strangers’, but there’s a risk of being unduly self-satisfied given that the city has never properly acknowledged its shameful treatment of its medieval Jewish community. This is a welcome gesture, better late than never."