‘Heartless’ vandals target memorial bench in St Albans woodland

Keith Swallow's memorial bench overlooks the Thameslink line in Heartwood Forest. Picture: Clare God

Keith Swallow's memorial bench overlooks the Thameslink line in Heartwood Forest. Picture: Clare Godden - Credit: Archant

“Heartless” vandals have angered a grieving family by scratching letters into a memorial bench.

Keith Swallow's last request, before he passed away from cancer in 2016, was to have a memorial bench dedicated to his memory at Sandridge's Heartwood Forest.

When the 69-year-old was first diagnosed, he used to walk his dog through the Woodland Trust green every day and later found peace there while recovering from surgery.

The bench reads: "Part of the surrounding area is dedicated in loving memory of Keith Swallow, 1946 to 2016.

"And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England's mountains green."

It was placed overlooking the Thameslink line because Keith used to work in the city and commute into London.

However, on May 9 his daughter Clare Godden discovered what she believes are the letters KOLC scratched onto the sentimental seat.

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She said: "Our family go up there all the time and sit and have coffee. I know it was in 2016, but it is still quite raw so it is nice to go and feel close to him.

"I cannot put into words how I feel - why would somebody do that? It makes me so sad this happens in this day and age.

"They clearly haven't lost someone and do not know how it feels and what this means to us.

"For somebody to vandalise it, they are a heartless human being. As a family we are so angry and upset."

After an outpouring of sympathy for Clare on social media, the family have managed to sand away the vandalism and restore the bench.

She added: "I just hope that it doesn't happen again, but how can you stop these people without putting cameras up in a beautiful woodland?

"But I must not let a horrible, heartless person affect how I remember my dad."

A dedicated bench or marker post on Woodland Trust land costs between £1,500 and £3,000.

Site manager for the Woodland Trust, Luke Shenton, said: "Woodland dedications are special landmarks that hold sentimental value for families and the community.

"As such, we're very disappointed to hear that mindless individuals have defaced this bench. Should any dedication in our woods be vandalised, we will always endeavour to repair the damage where possible."