(Jamaica Observer) More than 100 graves in the May Pen Cemetery in Kingston were desecrated over the weekend by scrap metal thieves, according to the capital city’s mayor, Desmond McKenzie.
Mayor McKenzie told yesterday’s Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) council meeting that the thieves, who were in search of scrap metal and gold — presumably for the lucrative ‘Cash for Gold’ trade — dug up vaults and graves and removed the metal handles from caskets.
“They are also looking for gold, as in the 1980s the dead were buried with gold rings and other jewellery,” the mayor said, adding that the police are investigating the act of depravity.
Concerns that the desecration of the graves could lead to health problems were being addressed by the Public Health authorities who were at the cemetery yesterday looking into what had happened.
McKenzie said that the vaults and graves that were dug up were on the Western side of the cemetery near to the Remand Centre, near where persons who died in a cholera endemic long ago were buried.
“A society where death becomes a means of livelihood is a sick society,” he said and revealed that steps were being taken to restore the graves as quickly as possible.
It was not the first time that thieves had desecrated graves in the cemetery, McKenzie told the meeting, pointing out that three months ago, an individual who was found guilty of the act by the courts was sentenced to one year in prison.
It has been estimated that the economy has lost $1 billion to metal theft over the past three years and the sugar industry in particular has been hard hit.
Yesterday, new Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told the Observer that the desecration of the graves was absolutely disgraceful.
“When we are at the stage where we don’t respect the dead, it’s a sign that we have lost our way,” he said.
Tufton, who has been meeting with the scrap metal dealers since last week, said that they had admitted that there were deviants among them. He said that a committee comprised of Customs, representatives from his ministry and scrap metal dealers had been set up to discuss proposals to clean up the trade.
The minister said that the scrap metal dealers had been given one-and-a-half weeks to come back with workable proposals that could form the basis for submissions to the Cabinet.
Tufton said that he had warned them that if solutions could not be found he would consider two options — one, the shutting down of the scrap metal industry, and the other would see greater participation by the state with legitimate agents to get rid of legitimately generated metal scraps.