A FAMILY is distraught after discovering a memorial pot marking their father's grave in Chard has disappeared.

Michael Phillips died in 1980 and is buried in the Zembard Lane cemetery, where a stone pot inscribed with his name and 'RIP' has marked his grave ever since.

His children, who began life in Beckington Crescent, are desperately trying to locate the pot, just days after finding out their mother has now also died.

Michael's daughter, Sharron Phillips, said: “The pot is quite small - it's all our mum could afford when he died. It is made of marble or granite.

“It has been there for 34 years and has never gone missing, so why now? It's just so disheartening to see my dad's grave without anything marking it.

“My sisters and brother are stunned to think that someone might have taken this from the graveyard. Who on earth would want to do that? It's disgusting.

“PCSO Ben Samways has been as good as gold - he has phoned me regarding the matter and got in touch with Chard Town Council too.

“A team from the council searched high and low in the four-acre cemetery - on every single grave, under bushes, you name it, but they didn't find it. We really appreciate all they and the police have done for us.

“But it's heart-breaking to go up there and look at an empty grave now, so my family and I would plead with anyone who knows anything about this to come forward.”

Sharron's sister, Karren Masterman, added: “It's a nightmare for us, especially after just finding out we have lost our mum. We feel devastated.

“We are in total and utter disbelief. Why would you do that? What would you gain?

“There's nothing there that says it's my dad now - it just looks like any other bit of earth.

“If we don't find the pot, we are going to have to find a way to raise money to buy something else for his grave.”

The cemetery is locked from just before sunset - around 4.30pm at the moment - until 8.30am every night.

Terry Powell, operations manager for Chard Town Council, has never known of anything like this happening before.

He said: “Occasionally things get moved around and we find them eventually, but in this case we haven't been able to. We have never had anything taken away - in the two and a half years I have been here this is the first thing that has gone completely.

“There is not a lot of vandalism, graffiti, or anything like that in Chard - people are normally very respectful.

“A cemetery is a public place, so we have to strike a balance between security and making sure we don't approach people who might be upset unnecessarily.

“There might not be someone there all the time, but for most of the opening hours there is someone about and people are keeping their eyes open for it.”

A police spokesman said: “We are currently investigating the theft of this memorial pot. Anyone who has seen the pot or knows who took it should contact Avon and Somerset Police on 101 and quote 19125/14.”