Thief's hoard from beyond the grave

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The Independent Online
Hundreds of headstones missing from a London cemetery have been found in a flat belonging to a man who has spent years using the masonry to build marble and granite structures in his home.

The hoard was discovered after a cemetery gardener saw a man wheeling a trolley through the graveyard containing a tombstone concealed in a plastic bag.

The gardener, Derek Thomas, apprehended the man at Tottenham cemetery, north London, until police arrived.

Later police searched a one-bedroom flat nearby crammed with 277 headstones, marble vases and kerb-stones from the edges of graves. Police have valued the cache at over pounds 20,000.

Tombstones were found in the hallway and were piled up in cupboards from the floor to the ceiling. Police discovered more stacks of headstones in the lounge and the kitchen.

"They were really crammed in," said one officer. "There was hardly any room left in the flat for him."

The man had a penchant for square and rectangular pieces of granite and marble. More sinister was the discovery of urns containing ashes and several bones, which police have sent away for analysis.

Nigel Morgan, the cemetery manager, said pieces have been going missing from graves for around three years but staff assumed it was vandalism.

He said the man was a familiar figure in Tottenham and had once been barred from the cemetery as a nuisance.

"When he was arrested I asked the police if they could go round and look in his place and this was when they discovered all these walls and memorials he had built. Our staff worked until 1.30am removing them all so that they could be returned to the cemetery," he said.

Constable Andy Keel, of Tottenham police, said the only rooms in the flat without piles of tombstones were the bedroom and bathroom. "It was quite a shock. We thought we might find some other headstones at the home, but nothing like this."

Other than the graveyard objects, the flat was "unremarkable", he said.

Next Tuesday, the lost tombstones will go on display at the Old Chapel at Tottenham cemetery, in the hope that they will be reclaimed by the families of the deceased.

There are 217 stones with some form of writing on them but 60 are believed to be unidentifiable. A dozen have already been reclaimed.

Mr Morgan said: "Some of the headstones have full names and will be fairly easy to identify but others have simple inscriptions like `mum and dad' and they will be more difficult to trace," he said.

In a bizarre week for the Tottenham police, officers also uncovered a stash of nearly 100 zimmer frames hoarded by a 19-year-old youth, who had stacked them in rooms and the back garden of his house. Police said they were worth about pounds 100 each and had been taken from St Bartholomew's hospital, central London.