Anger at gravestones 'vandalism'

ANGRY families who found gravestones had been badly damaged during safety inspections have branded the tests “ridiculous”.They feel they have been subjected to “institutional vandalism” and are demanding council bosses repair any damage and have enlisted the support of their MP to back their case.

ANGRY families who found gravestones had been badly damaged during safety inspections have branded the tests “ridiculous”.

They feel they have been subjected to “institutional vandalism” and are demanding council bosses repair any damage and have enlisted the support of their MP to back their case.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council inspectors have slapped notices on graves in Haverhill and Bury St Edmunds which failed the tests - telling relatives to contact the cemetery service for more information.

But West Suffolk MP Richard Spring, who met with families in Haverhill yesterday, said he was furious at the way the graves had been treated.

“This is sickening bureaucratic madness,” said Mr Spring. “I've been left speechless with disgust and I've been deeply moved by what I have seen.

“The idea that small modern headstones, which mostly come up to knee height, are going to be a source of danger is ridiculous. If no relatives can be found and a stone has been pushed over it is simply left which is totally disrespectful.”

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Dozens of gravestones were tested by council officials, who were concerned the monuments could collapse and injure someone.

The tests are being conducted nationally by councils following a Health and Safety Executive directive.

But June Soper of Haverhill was horrified to discover her mother's gravestone had been cracked at the base by the tests.

Mrs Soper demanded the council pay for the repairs, which it says must be carried out in six months or the stone would be laid down.

“I was very upset when I saw my mother's grave - it is a form of vandalism,” said Mrs Soper. “The cemetery looks a disgrace.”

Bernard Freeman, who has friends with loved ones buried at the Bury cemetery, said: “It is sacrilege to knock gravestones for health and safety reasons. It is institutional vandalism to bang them with a machine.

“How many years have these gravestones been in the ground, it is scandalous - they shouldn't be doing this to people who have relatives who are buried here.”

Families tending graves which failed the tests now face a £200 bill to shore up stones deemed unsafe because supporting metal rods were found to be too short or masonry had failed.

A high tech “topple tester” machine costing taxpayers £800 was used to “apply pressure” to the stones - prompting fury when relatives discovered cracked or flattened monuments.

According to borough guidelines, council workers are told to shake gravestones more than 30 months old before using the “topple tester” and then tilting them.

A spokesman for the borough council said they had no choice but to carry out the Health and Safety directive and defended the St Edmundsbury policy.

“This is something which is happening across the country. We have identified only those stones deemed dangerous and it is the responsibility of the owners to have them repaired.”

Keith Rackham, president of National Association of Memorial Masons said he had never heard of an injury caused by a modern headstone in his 36-year career.

However, he said St Edmundsbury had done everything correctly and had only been following procedure.

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