Graves in Wigan Parish Church’s yard have been sat on, left strewn with litter and even been daubed with a swastika by callous youths.
Residents have spoken of their disgust at the disrespectful way groups of people have been using a couple of large tombs as somewhere to sit and leaving food wrappers, empty bottles and other rubbish on them.
This is just sickening behaviour, the people responsible clearly have no respect for the dead. They need to be caught and made to clean up the mess they have left behindSteve Heaton
Pictures of the graves show clearly that one of them has been adorned with the offensive symbol and also scrawled a written message upon it.
Groups of youths also turned the area around the historic place of worship into a battleground last weekend, with police having to be called to stop the fighting, and people have also been spotted using skateboards in the graveyard.
The church has admitted the ongoing problem with anti-social behaviour in the area and graves have been damaged by people sitting on them.
Residents have condemned the way the churchyard is being used, describing some of the recent behaviour seen there as disgraceful.
Steve Heaton, who took the pictures, said: “Someone has drawn a swastika on the edge of the grave and also a message of some kind.
“This is just sickening behaviour, the people responsible clearly have no respect for the dead. They need to be caught and made to clean up the mess they have left behind.
“The graves date from the 1800s and they look as though they are family graves. I have seen groups of young people lying on them in the warm weather.
“They sit on them smoking drinking and eating and when they do leave the area there is a lot of litter that they have behind.
“I think their behaviour is just totally out of order, they very obviously have no respect for the people who are buried there.
“This needs to be stopped immediately. There are benches nearby where they could sit and have their lunch, there is simply no need for them to use someone’s grave in this disgusting manner.”
Wigan Parish Church admitted there have been issues with people not respecting the churchyard over several months.
A spokesman said: “There are two old tombs and they are being used as seats and also for skateboarding.
“At the moment we are having trouble with youths sitting around smoking, shouting and bawling. It seems last Saturday we also had a gang fight between two separate groups.
“We’ve had problems in the churchyard for maybe three or four months and people messing about have damaged the tombs. It’s a bit of a mess.”
The church stressed the area is cleaned daily and the employees responsible do an excellent job of getting rid of litter, while Mr Heaton said he had only noticed a problem in one particular corner.
Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said officers were called to Crawford Street at around 2.50pm on Saturday August 6 and dispersed the group of youths involved in the fight. There were no injuries.
Wigan Council said it carries out maintenance in the yard but the land remains owned by the church and the headstones belong to the families who originally had them installed.
Paul Barton, the town hall’s assistant director for environmental services, said: “We have a duty of care to ensure that the area remains safe for all visitors and will be asking the grounds maintenance team to check the site on their next planned visit.
“The area is a well-used green space in the centre of town and during spells of good weather town centre workers utilise the green space for lunch and breaks.
“Sometimes people are unaware of the relevance or the history of the site and their use can be construed as disrespectful without them realising.”