Arsonists torch flowers at grave of well-known traveller couple

PUBLISHED: 15:10 13 September 2019 | UPDATED: 15:36 13 September 2019

The joint grave of Eli and Gertrude Frankham was torched by arsonists overnight at Mount Pleasant cemetery in Wisbech. Picture: Supplied / Archant / Archive

The joint grave of Eli and Gertrude Frankham was torched by arsonists overnight at Mount Pleasant cemetery in Wisbech. Picture: Supplied / Archant / Archive

Archant

A family has been left "devastated" after the grave of travellers' leader Eli Frankham and his wife Gertrude was torched overnight.

The joint grave of Eli and Gertrude Frankham was torched by arsonists overnight at Mount Pleasant cemetery in Wisbech. Picture: Supplied / Archant / ArchiveThe joint grave of Eli and Gertrude Frankham was torched by arsonists overnight at Mount Pleasant cemetery in Wisbech. Picture: Supplied / Archant / Archive

Family members visiting the couple's grave arrived on Thursday morning (September 12) to find that flowers left inside a plastic pot had been set alight.

Their daughter Sandra Gregory said when family members turned up at the Mount Pleasant cemetery, Wisbech, they found the arson attack had been limited to their mother's side of the joint grave.

Sandra said: "Dad's side hasn't been touched, they are both buried next to each other and they have just burnt the flowers on my mum's side.

"It's just not on! It's not even the fact that the flowers have been burnt; it's all what it leaves behind, all the plastic bits stuck to the concrete.

The joint grave of Eli and Gertrude Frankham was torched by arsonists overnight at Mount Pleasant cemetery in Wisbech. Picture: Supplied / Archant / ArchiveThe joint grave of Eli and Gertrude Frankham was torched by arsonists overnight at Mount Pleasant cemetery in Wisbech. Picture: Supplied / Archant / Archive

"We have only just put the new stone on the grave and we put the flowers down but someone has come and set fire to the plastic pot."

Sandra, 60, says she doesn't know why her dad's side was left alone in the attack which took place on Wednesday night (September 11).

She added: "My dad was well known and did a lot for people in the local community.

"They need to put something up in the cemetery to stop this from happening again, even if it is just CCTV at the entrance to see who is coming in and out.

The joint grave of Eli and Gertrude Frankham was torched by arsonists overnight at Mount Pleasant cemetery in Wisbech. Picture: Supplied / Archant / ArchiveThe joint grave of Eli and Gertrude Frankham was torched by arsonists overnight at Mount Pleasant cemetery in Wisbech. Picture: Supplied / Archant / Archive

"It's not just mum and dad buried in there, there are loads of other families and I'm scared of what they can do next. What if the vandals come back?

"We're all just frightened of it happening again, I've not slept and the whole family is absolutely devastated, it is disgusting."

A spokesman for Cambridgeshire police said that the attack on the graves was reported to them and it is "being held on file pending further lines of investigation".

Eli Frankham was a major figure in the travelling community and was president of the National Romani Rights Association.

The joint grave of Eli and Gertrude Frankham was torched by arsonists overnight at Mount Pleasant cemetery in Wisbech. Picture: Supplied / Archant / ArchiveThe joint grave of Eli and Gertrude Frankham was torched by arsonists overnight at Mount Pleasant cemetery in Wisbech. Picture: Supplied / Archant / Archive

He was 72 when he died and founded the Romani rights association which represented a 100,000 strong community.

One of his major campaigns was to ensure other travellers were given accurate information in their battles against planning authorities who tried to stop the proliferation of travellers' sites.

Affectionately he was known as Uncle Eli but among his family he was often referred to as Uncle Badger.

He was married to Gertrude for 45 years and they had six children.

Six years ago a specialist exhumation team worked through the night to dig up the body of Mrs Frankham.

She died in December 2012 at her Walpole St Andrew home, 12 years after the death of her husband.

Norfolk police said exhumation was "extremely rare" and followed concerns by family members.

Despite her body being exhumed and two post-mortem examinations finding she died of natural causes, however the family believed that a local couple had killed her.

It led to a trial in 2014 when 11 members of Eli and Gertrude's family were jailed after they kidnapped and tortured the pair they believed to have murdered Gertrude.

At the time, Cambridgeshire Police described the ordeal as the worst case of vigilantism they had known.

A court heard how the kidnapped couple were dragged to a warehouse - despite the woman being pregnant - and made to sit in a chair while they were beaten.

During the attack on the woman, who was seven months pregnant, one family member called police to say she had confessed to murder.

The recording of the 999 call, which was played in court, includes the woman screaming as she was repeatedly hit in a "brutal" attack.

The male victim was told that if he went to police his family would be killed while he was forced to watch, the 2014 trial heard.

Both suffered severe injuries and the woman went into labour and successfully gave birth soon after being released from hospital.

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