HOME Secretary Priti Patel says she was left “disgusted” after discovering vandals had graffitied a painted war memorial in her constituency.

The mural, which has been put up on the River Walk in Witham, was daubed with a rude symbol over the weekend.

It came on the same weekend that iconic memorials, such as the Cenotaph in London, were covered up following civil unrest.

Ms Patel has given her backing to plans to hand out tougher sentences to culprits.

She is understood to be working on the proposals with Justice Secretary Robert Buckland.

Ms Patel said: “Disgusted to see this war memorial in Witham vandalised.

“This mural represents the memories of those who fought and died for the freedoms we enjoy today and is why we’re working on new laws to punish the mindless hooligans who insult their memory.”

The graffiti has been reported to Witham Town Council, which has confirmed it will be looking to find a way to remove it without damaging the rest of the mural.

Town clerk James Sheehy said: “The memorial located on the River Walk has been mindlessly sprayed over by vandals at a time of national concern over Britain’s war memorials and civic icons.

“Graffiti was reported to the council on Monday and the operations team was dispatched to assess the damage and attempt to sensitively remove the incomprehensible symbol of disrespect that has been made.

“At a time when the national spotlight is very much upon British iconography and memorials, idle hands beggar belief.

“Incomprehensible ignorance can be the only possible explanation for why somebody can deface a memorial to those who made the ultimate sacrifice with a crude, phallic symbol.”

The culprits responsible for the vandalism of the Witham war memorial have not been identified and there is no clear indication it was linked to protests taking place nationally.

Mr Sheehy added: “The council is dismayed and disappointed that such an unscrupulous act can be carried out so carelessly.

“It is hoped that the memorial can be restored to its former glory without damage.

“Witham Town Council wishes to assure citizens that no expense will be spared to make right this nauseating misdeed.”

Essex Police have confirmed they are investigating the incident.

Witnesses should contact 101.