VANDALS who overturned more than 70 headstones at a Middlesbrough cemetery have been condemned by police.

The damage at Thorntree Cemetery occurred during the weekend and was discovered by staff from the cemetery yesterday morning.

As well as damage to headstones, flowers and other graveside items were strewn across the cemetery.

Cemetery staff have been tidying up the site and ensuring all headstones are made safe. In many cases, this has meant placing the headstones flat on the ground.

Peter Gitsham, bereavement services manager at Middlesbrough Council, said: "All headstones are privately owned. Our duty extends to ensuring the site is safe. It is the responsibility of the families to re-erect the headstones.

"We are in the process of informing as many of the families as possible and will gladly advise them how to make the necessary repairs and help them through what is a very difficult time.

"Unfortunately, some of the gravestones are about 50 years old, so it may be difficult to trace some of the families concerned.

"In some cases, until the family is traced, we have to leave the headstones flat on the ground."

Jeff Duffield, environmental health officer at the council, said: "This is a totally heartless and deplorable act of vandalism."

He urged anyone with any information about the incident to contact police.

Extra security measures for the site are now being examined.

Police have condemned the vandalism and have asked anyone with information to contact them on (01642) 303126.