Community forever tainted by grave desecration

PERMANENT SCAR: Despite extensive cleaning, further clean-up work would damage the headstones further.
PERMANENT SCAR: Despite extensive cleaning, further clean-up work would damage the headstones further.

New Zealand's Jewish community will forever view the actions of a man who desecrated the graves of their ancestors with disgust and horror, community members have said.

Robert Moulden, who admitted desecrating Jewish graves at the Symonds St cemetery with crude slogans, was sentenced to 320 hours community work at Auckland District Court yesterday.

He was also ordered to pay $3000 reparation and to undergo nine months supervision.

More than a dozen headstones were vandalised with images of swastikas and expletive-ridden anti-Semitic messages on October 19, 2012.

Moulden pleaded guilty to the charge of wilful damage in November.

The damage to the stones is permanent and ghosting from the swastikas and other Nazi insignia cannot be removed. It will cost up to $27,000 to minimise the damage.

Jewish Council of New Zealand chairman Geoff Levy said the sentence was fair and he had "total faith" in the justice system, but the damage caused to the headstones was permanent and will always be "distressing".

"It doesn't detract from the fact that there has been a severe blow dealt to the Jewish community, that the painting of swastikas, which is a feared and hated symbol, on the tombstones is something that the people will remember for a long, long time," he said.

Levy added that the Jewish community did not have "total expressions of regret from Mr Moulden" apologising for the damage caused.

"He apologised in the restorative justice framework, but that's only to the people who were there," he said.

"He's has caused damage to hundreds of people and in addition to that he has damaged a part of the history of Auckland because the community cemetery is a holy place which belongs to all of Auckland."

Moulden has undertaken restorative justice with some members of the Jewish community and has even had offers to assist him in furthering his education.

At yesterday's sentencing, Judge Russell Collins said the forgiving nature of the Jewish community was "extraordinary".

"To your credit, you were willing to engage with the Jewish community and a more extraordinary outcome is the forgiving nature of the members of the Jewish community," Judge Collins said.

"Their forgiveness of you needs to be admired considering how wounding and distressing your actions were."

Moulden's co-accused maintains his innocence and will fight the charge.

The cemetery, Auckland's first, has long been a target for vandals and also attracts people sleeping rough.

Auckland Now