Cost of graveyard repairs revealed

URGENT answers have been demanded after grieving families were warned the bill for making their relatives' headstones secure could add up to £1.1million.

URGENT answers have been demanded after grieving families were warned the bill for making their relatives' headstones secure could add up to £1.1million.

The figures have been branded “ridiculous” by concerned community leaders and the checks were labelled “unnecessary”.

They were released on the same day as local authorities were warned every effort must be made to avoid the large-scale laying down of gravestones during safety checks in cemeteries.

Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley said investigations into the “push tests” in St Edmundsbury show 16% of headstones had failed the checks - with as many as a quarter of those tested in Bury showing weaknesses.

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With relatives faced with a bill of around £200 to secure the monuments, Mr Ruffley said the costs of repairs could run to more than £600,000 based on the number of headstones the borough has records for.

But the MP said the actual number of headstones in St Edmundsbury could be closer to 35,000 - which could mean the bill could reach £1.1million.

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John Douse, church warden at St Petronilla Church in Whepstead, said he would be writing to the borough council demanding answers.

He said: “I am surprised by the extent of the work and the amount it is going to cost. The whole thing is absolutely ridiculous as I think the tests are unnecessary. This is a very raw subject and can be very upsetting for the relatives.”

Conservative Mr Ruffley said the borough council had not contacted nearly half of those people whose relatives' headstones had failed the testing.

“This is an incredibly emotive subject and I have discovered that a quarter of all those headstones tested in Bury are failing the 'push test', Mr Ruffley said.

“Across the whole borough this figure stands at 16%. Potentially this could cost bereaved relatives over £600,000 and that is only for those headstones already on the St Edmundsbury database.

“With several thousand more headstones to be accounted for and tested who knows what this cost could rise to.”

Earlier this week, relatives demanded an apology from St Edmundsbury Borough Council after finding signs attached to the monuments informing them of the problems.

Today the local government ombudsmen of England and Wales advised laying flat large numbers of “lawn memorials” as a result of safety testing is “unlikely to be appropriate” and almost always avoidable. It recommended it would be “good practice” for councils to inform the bereaved where possible before the checks were carried out.

A council spokesman said: “We have a duty under health and safety legislation to ensure that all the memorials in our cemeteries are safe. We understand just how sensitive this issue is for many people and Mr Ruffley has identified some of the difficulties we have faced.

“The reason we have not been able to contact some relatives is because they have not kept their records with us up to date. This issue, along with a possible scheme for funding repairs for those in hardship, will be considered by our policy development committee in April.

“We care about the services we provide in our cemeteries and therefore we wanted to complete this process in the most sensitive way possible whilst ensuring the appropriate guidelines were followed.

“However, following recent expressions of concerns, we have thoroughly reviewed our procedures and a copy of that review is on our website.”

Anyone with any concerns should contact the council at

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