The family of a former air force sergeant from Cranford has called for security to be beefed up following the apparent theft of his gravestone from Bedfont Cemetery.

John Moriarty was buried in the Bedfont Road graveyard following his death on March 4, 2005, at the age of 83.

His last resting place was adorned with a touching monument made from Italian black marble, which cost the family more than £3,000.

But Mr Moriarty's loved ones have been left devastated after arriving at the cemetery to pay their respects earlier this month only to find the headstone and other parts of the grave missing.

They now fear his final resting place may have been targeted by thieves, in what could be the first case of its kind locally, and have demanded action from the authorities.

His distraught widow Mary, 77, of Southall Lane, told the Chronicle: "It's devastating. I just can't believe that something like this can happen.

"The sort of person who would do this would have to be the lowest of the low."

Mr Moriarty was a sergeant in the RAF Signals for 12 years after the Second World War and served in places including Ceylon and Egypt.

The keen member of Hounslow Heath Golf Club, who later worked as a teleprinter operator in West Drayton, died from pneumonia.

The shocking discovery was made by Mrs Moriarty, her son John, his ex-partner Elizabeth and eight-year-old daughter Natasha on Sunday, March 1, around four weeks after the grave was last visited.

The family has informed Hounslow Police and the borough's cemeteries office but were told there is little that can be done.

John, 55, who lives in Hounslow West, said he hoped the publicity will impress upon people the need to get their headstones insured.

"I was also told cemetery gates are not locked, for financial reasons, even though it's clear they should be," he added.

Alan Rice, the cemeteries officer for council subcontractor Continental Landscapes, confirmed the gates to Bedfont Cemetery are not locked by staff but do have a padlock.

He said it is the responsibility of regular visitors with keys to keep them locked, but admitted they were often left open.

Mr Rice told the Chronicle he had never heard of such a case in the 40 years he has worked in the borough.

Only someone with a certain level of expertise would be able to successfully remove the stone and erase the inscription, he added.

But stonemason Kevin Nagle, who made the original grave and is currently consulting with the familyover a replacement memorial, said it did not make economic sense because of the expense involved.

His only suggestion was that someone may have taken the wrong grave for re-inscription by mistake, although calls to several other masons who work in the area have been fruitless.

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