ARMY chiefs have condemned vandals who went on the rampage in a military cemetery, destroying the graves of war heroes.

The devastation was discovered yesterday at a churchyard near Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire.

Headstones and graves of soldiers who served in the First and Second World Wars, and in earlier conflicts, were found to have been overturned and smashed into pieces.

The garrison quartermaster, Major Dave Jarrett, said the cost of repairing the damage to the Hipswell military cemetery would be about £6,000.

Army top brass are incensed by the timing of the vandalism, so close to Christmas.

"The distressing thing is that people are likely to be visiting these graves over the Christmas period and they're going to find them wrecked and smashed on the floor," said Maj Jarrett.

The gravestone of a three-month-old baby was among those targeted in the vandals' wrecking spree.

A 7ft-high cross was also broken in half and Major Jarrett said: "If the broken top half had fallen down it would have taken divine intervention to save whoever was underneath it because it was that large."

Another cross, standing about 2ft high, had been pulled out of the ground and pushed over.

More than 200 graves are sited in the military part of the cemetery, with hundreds of others in the civilian area.

Maj Jarrett said: "The problem now is that they are going to need lifting up, taking away, fixing and bringing back.

"It looks like it is just down to yobs, and their mindlessness is unbelievable.

"To smash up any cemetery is disgraceful, but especially a military one when we are doing so much in Afghanistan at the moment."

The incident highlighted once again the dangers posed by such areas.

A six-year-old boy from Harrogate, North Yorkshire, was killed in July last year as he played with friends in the town's Grove Road cemetery.

Reuben Powell was crushed when a 5ft-high sandstone slab fell on him.

l Were you one of those affected by the graveyard vandalism? If so, contact Stuart Mackintosh on (01609) 773510.