Passer-by attacked for trying to stop desecration of crosses
An attack on a man who stepped in to stop a group of thugs desecrating crosses laid to remember fallen soldiers has angered veterans and members of the Royal British Legion.
Toby Cronshaw, 33, saw three drunken men kicking and urinating on the white crosses at St Andrew's Church in Tor Church Road, Torquay, which remember fallen servicemen.
Incensed by the men's lack of respect for fallen heroes, he intervened, asking them to stop, but was attacked from behind and kicked while on the ground.
The church is one of the oldest in Torbay and is where the then 12-year-old Agatha Christie was a bridesmaid at her sister's wedding.
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The attack has provoked outrage in the seaside resort, including among those connected with the church and the Royal British Legion.
Mr Cronshaw said he was walking through the churchyard with his brother when he spotted three men messing about with traffic cones and shouting.
When he stepped in to tell them to stop he was hit from behind – suffering a dislocated jaw – and kicked while unconscious on the ground.
He said: "One of them started kicking the crosses and then urinating on it. Then another did the same.
"To be honest, I couldn't believe what they were doing. I ran over and told them to stop. They ran off, but they came back asking what my problem was.
"I asked them what they thought they were doing and whether they thought it was acceptable to kick the crosses.
"I said 'Do you even know what they are for?' but they didn't have a clue.
"I realised it was a waste of time and turned around to go. I then felt a blow on the back of my head and that is the last thing I remember.
"My brother later told me I banged my head as I fell and they just started kicking me.
"He stepped in and they turned on him."
Fortunately some neighbours saw what was happening and the attackers fled. Mr Cronshaw spent a day in hospital but is now recovering at his Brighton home. His brother suffered minor injuries.
As a child Mr Cronshaw would regularly go to the churchyard to look at the memorials and was outraged when he saw them being damaged. "When I saw what they were doing I was just speechless," he said.
"I couldn't believe anybody could do that. They were not kids and looked old enough to know what the crosses are for and what they represent."
The incident took place in the early hours of Saturday, August 3, but police have just released the details.
The church was formerly the parish church for the area and contains graves from both world wars. It is now run by the Greek Orthodox Church.
Margaret Forbes-Hamilton, chairman of the Friends of the Churchyard, the community group that has rejuvenated the churchyard, said she was "shocked by the ignorant and wanton behaviour".
She said: "I would like to thank those public-spirited men who stepped in to protect the memorial garden."
She said she believed the white war crosses were unique in this country.
Ron Goodwin, president of the Paignton Royal British Legion, said: "I think basically this stems from a lack of knowledge and education.
"In the days of national service everybody knew about the armed forces and what they represented, but unfortunately there is a lack of knowledge and respect now."
DC Dan Ritson, of Torquay CID, said: "The three males are described as being white, aged in their late teens to early twenties. One had short curly ginger hair and was wearing a baseball cap on the back of his head. The second was wearing a white polo shirt with grey horizontal lines across it.
"The third male was wearing a tight-fitting white T-shirt with a multi-coloured geometric design on the front of it."
Anyone with information should call 101 (quoting crime reference FT/13/5159).
The Friends of the Church is currently putting together funding bids to have the memorial stone and the crosses restored totally for the 100th anniversary of the First World War One which will run from 2014 to 2018.