Vandals target Wayland Wood memorial bench

A Norfolk family has blasted the 'mindless' vandals who destroyed a memorial bench in a woodland leaving it 'only fit for firewood'.

When Janet Graham died suddenly on July 30 2001, her family arranged to have the seat placed in the heart of Wayland Wood, at Merton, near Watton, in her memory.

The 58-year-old mother and grandmother, who was born in Norwich, moved to the USA in the 1960s after marrying an American serviceman but had talked of coming back to Norfolk when she retired.

Her sister Gill Williams, who lives in Lenwade, between Fakenham and Norwich, said: 'She had a strong desire to live in the Watton area near the woods that she loved to visit on her frequent trips back home. Unfortunately her life was cut short and this never materialised.

'However, in her memory, we thought it would be a lovely idea to seek permission from the Norfolk Wildlife Trust to put a memorial bench in the heart of the Wayland Wood for the pleasure of all to use.'

But on June 9, just a month before the 10th anniversary of Mrs Graham's death, Norfolk Wildlife Trust received a call telling them the bench had been damaged.

NWT woodlands field officer John Milton said the sturdy wooden park bench had been smashed to pieces. He said: 'I went there to have a look. They would have had to go at it quite hard. The whole thing had been smashed in and lifted out of the concrete foundations.

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'I should imagine they must have gone prepared. Each foot has a concrete fitting – they must have been fairly determined.'

Mrs Graham's younger sister said she was horrified when she was told what had happened. She was told it had been 'vandalised beyond repair' and was described as 'only fit for firewood'.

She said: 'I was devastated and shocked. What sort of person would feel the need to smash up a memorial bench that has brought much pleasure to many for nine years?'

The family had regularly visited the woodland and bench on anniversaries, at Christmas, and when the area's celebrated bluebells were in bloom. Mrs Williams said: 'It was so beautiful.'

It had a brass plaque explaining to visitors to the woodland that it had been placed there in memory of Mrs Graham.

Mr Milton said anyone approaching the bench, which was situated half way along Wayland Wood's nature trail, would have known the sentimental value attached to it.

He said: 'It's unbelievable that someone would have a go at a memorial bench.'

Wayland Wood, like other Norfolk Wildlife Trust sites, has a history of vandalism and the organisation recently had to repair a number of posts in the car park which had been kicked over.

The trust is finding out whether its insurance will cover the cost of replacing the bench but Mr Milton added: 'It's not really about the cost – it's not a nice thing to happen when it's a memorial bench. I really feel for the family.'

Norfolk Police believe the damage happened between 7pm on Friday June 3 and 4pm on Wednesday June 8. Anyone with information should call 0845 456 4567.

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