Jewish graves have been vandalised in a “sickening act of anti-Semitism”, police said.

Officers were called after 14 head stones were knocked over and smashed at the Blackley Jewish Cemetery in Charlestown, north Manchester.

Police say the vandalism, discovered on Wednesday afternoon, was a deliberate and targeted attack and will cause “alarm and distress” in the local Jewish community.

Chief Superintendent Wasim Chaudhry from Greater Manchester Police said: “This is a sickening act of anti-Semitism which we are taking very seriously.

“I cannot begin to get into the mind of someone who would commit such an atrocity.

“All decent members of the public recognise that a cemetery is supposed to be a resting place for people who have passed away; a place of sanctity and dignity where families can come and pay their respects.

“So to have those graves desecrated in such a disgusting and disrespectful way will no doubt cause immeasurable anguish to the families and loved ones affected.

“We will do everything we can to find out who is responsible and bring the full force of the law down on them.

“This has been recorded as a hate crime because of the clear racial motivation and, should we find those who committed this cowardly act, that will allow the courts to impose even harsher punishments.”

Greater Manchester Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd said: “This is a disgusting act of vandalism that will cause anguish, fear and anger among our communities, and could lead to serious divisions within our neighbourhoods.

“I am pleased that Greater Manchester Police has responded so quickly to this incident and correctly identified this abhorrent desecration as a hate crime.

“We’re in contact with the Community Security Trust – an organisation that protects British Jews from anti-Semitism and related threats – and I want to reassure them, and our Jewish community, that such deplorable behaviour will not be tolerated in Greater Manchester.”

Police have stepped up patrols in the area and are appealing for anyone with information to come forward.

Mr Chaudhry added: “Someone will know who is responsible and I would urge those people to do the right thing, do the decent thing.

“Think how you would feel if it was the grave of your loved one which was damaged. I am sure you would want justice so please, think of those are suffering and speak to us, in confidence if needed.”

Anyone with information should call police on 0161 856 3521 ,101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.