New security measures were in place at cemeteries in the Sierra Leone capital Freetown after grave robbers used pickaxes and sledge hammers to pry open tombs and steal coffins and jewellery.
Around 250 graves were targeted in three of Freetown’s seven cemeteries over the past two months, Freetown City Council said in a statement on Saturday.
At one of the cemeteries targeted, Kingtom, 60 per cent of the more than 6,000 graves were those of Ebola victims.
Twenty-four hour security was now in place at all the city cemeteries including armed police guards to foil the robbers, the council’s environment and social officer Sulaiman Zainu-Parker told national radio.
The thefts were a “total disgrace to us as a nation... why can’t they leave the dead to finally rest in peace undisturbed?” he said.
Abdul Rahman, caretaker of Kingtom cemetery, told the radio station that the robbers forced “open concrete graves and vaults to steal ornaments, chains, wedding rings and clothes from the dead”.
“The vandals sometimes remove corpses from expensive mahogany and polished coffins and I suspect the coffins are later sold off to some local undertakers,” he added.
Relatives of the dead welcomed the move by the City Council to beef up security.
Raymond Taylor told AFP his family vault at Kingtom had been plundered.
“The mahogany casket of my late father which cost us about USD 1,000 was stolen by unknown persons and until this day has never been retrieved.
“It must have been sold to some unscrupulous undertaker for a pittance,” he said.
Another relative, Fatu Sheriff, said the grave of his aunt who died in London but was buried in the city’s Ascension Town cemetery was attacked and jewellery and her wedding ring stolen.
“I am certain that these were later pawned to the usual willing customers... It’s about time these things should stop,” he said.