Three teenagers used hammers to smash more than 40 gravestones in a historic cemetery before fleeing - with a six-year-old girl in hot pursuit on her bike.
Gravestones and statues in the Napier cemetery were smashed off their bases on Sunday evening and left in small pieces. Some may not be able to be fixed.
Senior Sergeant Tony Dewhirst said the girl - who lives near the cemetery on Hospital Hill - saw the teenagers smashing the headstones as she biked past about 6pm.
She tried to follow them as they ran off but lost their trail, so she rode home and told her family what had happened. She was able to give police a description of the teenagers, two of whom were wearing jeans and All Blacks T-shirts.
Napier City Council reserves manager Tony Billing said it appeared the youths had gone to the cemetery intent on destruction.
"They knocked the gravestones clean off their bases - smashed them into small pieces."
The council would do its best to repair the headstones, but it would be hard to put small fragments back into place, Mr Billing said.
The destruction was particularly worrying because the cemetery was the oldest in Napier and contained a lot of valuable history.
Some of the headstones broken on Sunday were beautiful and elaborate, he said. "One of them was an angel. Its wings were smashed off. It's terribly demoralising and depressing."
The cemetery is the burial place of many of Hawke's Bay's earliest pioneers, including William Colenso.
"This is the history of Napier being attacked. A lot of the people who died in those early pioneering days went through some severe hardship," Mr Billing said.
Mr Dewhirst said the secluded cemetery seemed to be a target at times for mindless vandalism.
"We've noticed that it is a bit of a meeting place for some groups. We get reports of damage every so often."
Police are tracing the registration number of a vehicle seen two weeks ago at the time of a graffiti attack that defaced the cemetery's lychgate. They were now keen to track down the three teenagers.
The council began building a fence around the cemetery and adjacent Botanical Gardens this year in a bid to stop vandalism, but the project dragged to a halt after surrounding residents denounced the fence as ugly.
Mr Billing said he hoped neighbours would help protect the cemetery from further damage.
"We try desperately to curb it, but the only way you can effectively do that is through the assistance of residents."
- © Fairfax NZ News
Has the sale of assets been successful?Related story: Govt lowers asset sales estimate