POLICE are hunting vandals who targeted a Southampton cemetery and felled a large tree in a "senseless" act of destruction.

The hooligans are thought to have used a chainsaw to attack a Hornbeam tree at Hollybrook Cemetery, which contains more than 53,000 graves.

It comes just weeks after people living in the Bassett and Lordswood areas reported seeing teenagers riding motorbikes across graves in the cemetery.

The incident involving the tree is thought to have occurred on Sunday at around 10.20pm.

Daily Echo:

A woman who visited the cemetery to put some flowers on her mother's grave, said: "It was a beautiful, healthy tree which had probably has been standing there for 50-80 years.

"A man said he thought he heard dirt bikes being revved up but it was obviously a chainsaw. It was a senseless act of vandalism."

Southampton and Crematorium and Cemeteries posted: "Sadly someone has unlawfully felled a beautiful mature tree in Hollybrook Cemetery.

"Wildlife benefit from all the trees within our cemeteries and it is likely that birds were nesting or using it as a food source."

A later post says: "Thank you to all those who have shared our upset and outrage at this mindless act. Thankfully no graves have been damaged."

The vandalism has also angered people with loved ones buried in the cemetery.

Daily Echo:

One woman posted: "We have just rushed up to the graves as my partner's twin is buried in front of the tree. If it had gone the other way it would have crushed his grave as well as the three next to him and the ones behind."

Another social media added: "I hope they find the person responsible for this and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.

"I'm glad no-one was seriously hurt or worse. That tree is big enough to crush a car."

The huge cemetery was opened in 1913 and is home to the Hollybrook Memorial, which honours almost 2,000 people who died in the First World War and have no known grave.

Daily Echo:

A memorial seat near the chapel was built by David Banks of Lymington and commemorates civilians killed during the Second World War.

Hollybrook is the last resting place of Southampton-born comedian Benny Hill, who died aged 68 in 1992.

White Star Line lookout Frederick Fleet, one of the first people to spot the iceberg which sank the Titanic, is also buried there. He died in Southampton in 1965 aged 77.

A police spokesperson said: "We received a report that a large Hornbeam tree, located at the Lordswood end of Hollybrook Cemetery, had been cut down without permission."

Anyone with information can contact police on 101, quoting crime reference number 44200176294.