Rochdale Cenotaph being guarded by GMP after vandals deface memorial with political pro-Palestine graffiti

Date published: 08 November 2023

Rochdale Cenotaph is being guarded by Police Community Support Officers after several incidents in the week before Remembrance Day, including being defaced by political graffiti and poppy wreaths being ‘replaced’ with Palestine flags.

Earlier this week, flags with the Palestinian colours were spotted on the stands which are installed ahead of Remembrance Day to hold the poppy wreaths laid each year. The council said CCTV footage showed the wreaths being blown from the stands due to the high winds over the weekend.

On Monday, two college students were charged with causing public nuisance after ripping poppy wreaths from the stands. The two teenagers have been charged with intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance. They cannot be legally identified, due to their ages.

Political graffiti, plus green and white paint, had been sprayed across the memorial on Tuesday (7 November).

The graffiti has been removed by Rochdale Borough Council, and the damaged poppy wreaths replaced.

The memorial is currently being guarded by Police Community Support Officers, enhancing previous protection provided by CCTV operators and passing patrols.

A spokesperson for Rochdale Borough Council said: “During the weekend of 4 and 5 November we became aware of a video about Rochdale Cenotaph that had been posted on social media. We looked into the issues raised in the video and issued a response on Monday 6 November.

“After we published our response there was an incident at the cenotaph and two people were arrested and have been charged with intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance. Following this, the council removed and replaced a number of damaged poppy wreaths.

“On Tuesday afternoon graffiti was sprayed on the cenotaph. This is totally unacceptable and is also being investigated by police. The graffiti will be removed as soon as we are able to.

“As we said in our initial response – we are proud of our strong links with our armed forces community. Our war memorials and monuments are incredibly important and should be respected by everyone at all times.”

Greater Manchester Police’s Rochdale district and Rochdale Council are taking continuing steps to protect the cenotaph.

Chief Superintendent Nicky Porter, GMP Rochdale district commander, said: “We join communities across Rochdale in being deeply saddened by the incidents at the Cenotaph – the memorial is a particularly poignant reminder of those who have given their lives to our country, particularly at this time year.

“We will not tolerate the criminal disrespect of the town’s Memorial Gardens and I hope the action we have already taken in response to these two incidents reassures our communities of that.

“Whilst the area is regularly monitored by CCTV operators and passing patrols, the partnership is working to sustain increased protection at this time. We have Police Community Support Officers at the scene at the moment and we will be looking to put lasting measures in place over the coming hours and days.

“We don’t underestimate the impact these events will have on our community of veterans, and I will be personally engaging with them and other community groups throughout this week.”

Local residents and dignitaries have condemned the incidents, branding the actions “absolutely disgusting,” “scandalous” and “disrespectful.”

Rochdale MP Sir Tony Lloyd said: “Rochdale prides itself on its diversity and strong links with our armed forces and with the situation in Gaza and Israel, and the upcoming Remembrance Sunday, we must recognise the importance of these ties.

“The desecration is unacceptable and is rightly being investigated by police. The process of cleaning the cenotaph has now been completed — thank you to everyone who acted quickly.”

Conservative leader John Taylor said: “I am deeply saddened and angered to learn of and see the disgraceful desecration of our cenotaph in Rochdale town centre and I condemn the criminal actions of those responsible in the strongest of terms. 

“The cenotaph is our focal point as a community when remembering all those heroes who fought and laid down their lives on our behalf. It is a sacred monument with very special meaning to our veterans, their families, friends and loved ones and to the wider community who stand in solidarity and respect for those who made the ultimate sacrifice. 

“There can no justification for this utterly appalling, despicable criminality and the sooner those responsible are brought to justice the better. Rochdale has once again become the topic of international news with the cenotaph under police guard because of the mindless and most disrespectful criminal behaviour of one or a small number of individuals. 

“As Remembrance Sunday approaches we all enter a period of reflection and pay our respects to our servicemen and women. On Sunday I will lay a wreath on behalf of the Conservative group as our mark of gratitude and I will be proud to do so. This week I have spent two days volunteering on the poppy stall in Morrisons where donations and heartfelt respect from the community have been very plain to see in equal measure. It is abundantly clear how our community has overwhelming support for our servicemen and women. 

“From my perspective, there are two very clear points I wish to make. On behalf of the many, many thousands of decent respectable members of our community I utterly denounce the despicable actions of those responsible. Their actions are completely out of step with the genuine feelings of compassion across our community and they have been the most insensitive and disrespectful acts of criminality possible. 

“Secondly, I do not believe the actions of those responsible are representative of any community group or groups across our borough. I recognise how the ongoing troubles in the Middle East are of global concern and I, like every other decent person desperately want to see a peaceful and long-lasting solution to the conflict. I am proud of the fact that here in Rochdale, unlike some other northern towns, we have a history of strong community cohesion, respect and tolerance and the mindless actions of a minority cannot be allowed to undermine those core values.

“There is no place for racism in Rochdale, there is no place for hate in Rochdale and there is no place for discrimination in Rochdale.”

Former Man of Rochdale Paul Ellison, who installed the nearby Remembrance Garden and has worked on installing Castleton War Memorial, has said the actions “step over the line.”

He said: “Our cenotaph is not a place to voice views. This is totally unacceptable. Whilst current world affairs are upsetting, this has certainly stepped over the line.

“There is absolutely no need for this, and personally this is an act of mindless vandalism.”

Former councillor and police officer Peter Reed, whose father fought in World War Two, branded the move “utterly disgraceful,” adding: “I will be at the cenotaph on Sunday as I have been for the last seventy years or so.

“Numbers have grown year on year.

“Please, even if you have not been in recent years because of restrictions, make an extra effort to show that at least hundreds upon hundreds still hold our cenotaphs as memorials to our fallen.

“We have not yet lost our respect for our fallen; lest we forget.”

Dobir Miah said: “Those who go round graffitiing cenotaphs are despicable. Protesting is a right, but you cannot go damage or desecrate property or a place of memorial. There’s always a few that spoil it. Let’s stay united and not let these things cause division.”

Anyone with information about this incident should contact GMP quoting 1294 07/11/23. Anonymous reports can be made via the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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