Selsey families heartbroken as grave robbers strike

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Two families from Selsey have been left disgusted after lights and a statue were taken from their relative’s graves from the same churchyard – in the space of just a few week

Kim Goddard was distraught when she noticed last week the solar lights on her mother’s grave at St Wilfrid’s Chapel in Church Norton, near Selsey, had been taken.

And just weeks before, Abi Thornton was putting flowers on her father’s grave at the churchyard when she discovered a special memorial sailor statue had disappeared.

The Thornton family were also upset because they had spotted other people walking across the grave.

Carol Thornton, wife of the late William Thornton who is buried at the churchyard, said: “It is just ridiculous, we are not the only ones that have had something taken from a grave.

“I have spoken to several people down there. The fact people were standing on the grave, and there is a distinct footpath right by it, is upsetting.

She added: “People haven’t got much respect for the living, but they should at least have some respect for the dead.”

The sailor statue was placed on Mr Thornton’s grave because he served in the Royal Navy. He died after a long battle with cancer in 2003.

Abi said: “We went down there on May 4 because it was dad’s birthday. When we got there we saw some birdwatchers standing on the grave.

“We complained to the owner of the churchyard, but they said they could not do anything.”

Mrs Goddard of High Street realised the lights from her late mother’s grave had been taken after checking they were not with her siblings. She said her father Robin was left distraught when he was told the news.

She said: “It is disturbing someone could go on to someone’s grave and take the lights away. Other graves have these lights as well.

“It was upsetting for my dad to see. He could not believe people could stoop so low.”

St Wilfrid’s Chapel at Rectory Lane stands in a tranquil corner of a large churchyard, down a little lane beside Pagham Harbour.

At first sight it appears to be a simple cemetery chapel. In fact it is the 13th-century chancel of a large Norman church.

The main part of the church was removed in 1864 and rebuilt in the centre of Selsey to serve the growing population of this seaside resort.

It was re-dedicated to St Wilfrid — the seventh-century founder of the now-vanished cathedral at Selsey — and served as a chapel of ease until the Diocese of Chichester declared it redundant in 1990.

Since then it has been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) charity. The tiny chapel has been listed at Grade I by English Heritage for its architectural and historical importance.

John Vigar of the CCT said: “We own the chapel, but we have nothing to do with the churchyard. It is still owned by the parish church of Selsey, St Peter’s.”

No one from St Peter’s Church was available to comment on the churchyard thefts.