Two arrested after Rochdale Cenotaph daubed with ‘Free Palestine’ graffiti

Two people have been arrested after a cenotaph was daubed with the words ‘Free Palestine’.

Police said two teenage males had been detained on suspicion of causing racially aggravated criminal damage to the cenotaph in Rochdale and were being held in custody for questioning.

The memorial was targeted on Tuesday with the slogan sprayed in red paint on the front of the cenotaph, yards from Rochdale police station in the town centre.

The incident prompted widespread condemnation and Greater Manchester Police (GMP) stationed guards at the memorial, which was treated as a crime scene.

GMP declined to give the ages of the two suspects or confirm if they were adults.

Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Round, of GMP, said: “The cenotaph means a lot to the community in Rochdale and the recent incidents have been deeply upsetting, particularly at a time when we should be honouring the memory of war veterans.

“I want to assure the public that Greater Manchester Police is taking the incident very seriously and we have been working with partners to carry out swift arrests.

“I hope the latest action reassures our communities and sends a message that criminal damage towards war memorials will not be tolerated.”

Rochdale Borough Council said on X, formerly Twitter, that it had “removed and replaced a number of damaged poppy wreaths” and the graffiti had been cleaned off.

The council said: “We are proud of our strong links with our armed forces community. Our war memorials and monuments are incredibly important and should be respected by everyone at all times.”

The Rochdale memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who also designed the cenotaph on Whitehall, which is the site of the National Service of Remembrance every November.

The central London monument has featured in a wider debate about whether a pro-Palestinian march in the city on Saturday should go ahead, with organisers pledging to avoid the war memorial.

The Metropolitan Police have urged protest organisers not to hold demonstrations on Armistice Day or Remembrance Sunday amid concerns about breakaway groups causing violence.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has accused the police of being biased when dealing with protests, and described successive pro-Palestine demonstrations as “hate marches”.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said the attack on the Rochdale Cenotaph was “absolutely disgraceful” but said he would prefer it if pro-Palestine marches planned for this Saturday in London and elsewhere were not taking place.

He also criticised the Home Secretary’s approach.

He told BBC Radio Manchester: “This is Remembrance Weekend and I would want a situation where all of our attention is on that. That’s an important weekend for many people in the country.

“I have never seen a Home Secretary who is actually ratcheting things up, inflaming situations rather than calming them. Her role should be to lower the temperature, diffuse the situation.

“In my view, she is doing the opposite.”

Anyone with information about Tuesday’s incident in Rochdale is asked to contact GMP quoting 1294 07/11/23 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.