Major repair bill for gravestones

FAMILIES who tend graves for their loved ones in an Essex district could find headstones tied to stakes in the ground or even knocked down altogether after checks revealed many are posing a threat to the public.

By Roddy Ashworth

FAMILIES who tend graves for their loved ones in an Essex district could find headstones tied to stakes in the ground or even knocked down altogether after checks revealed many are posing a threat to the public.

And now those with memorial plots in any of Tendring District Council's cemeteries are being asked to come forward so that any maintenance work needed can be carried out.

The call follows a survey of four council-owned sites - Clacton, Dovercourt, Kirby and Walton on the Naze - by insurers Zurich Municipal.


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The checks found that almost one third of the monuments tested in them - around 5,000 from a total of around 17,000 - were in need of some form of restorative work.

Of that 5,000, around 450 were identified as being in a “dangerous condition and requiring urgent attention”, while the remaining 4,500 were classified as being in a “poor” condition, requiring work within the next two to three years.

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Michael Talbot, the council's cabinet member with responsibility for the environment, said the council would resist knocking down gravestones in the short term, and added that around £6,000 had been set aside to temporarily deal with the most dangerous.

“We are driving into the ground a substantial stake alongside the headstone, to the rear, and attaching the monument to it,” he said.

“We want to respect peoples' sensitivities. But we would encourage anybody who has a loved one's grave in one of the four Tendring cemeteries to check that the authority knows who the owner is.

“It is the responsibility of the grave owner, and not the cemetery owner, to maintain the grave. But as we have been informed of this, if there was an accident we could not plead ignorance.”

Mr Talbot added that one of the main problems was that the council was not aware of all of the owners of plots in cemeteries, as many had moved away and, in the case of some of the older graves, had themselves died.

“In the long term, if nothing is done and something becomes a danger to the public then the only option might be to remove the danger by laying the stones down so they can't fall on anybody. However, we want that to be the last resort,” he said.

The problem of dangerous grave monuments was highlighted earlier this month when Braintree District Council demolished around 100 headstones in a municipal cemetery.

Explaining why the action had been taken, council leader Graham Butland said nationally there had been 21 cases of people being injured by gravestones and that some children had even been killed.

The council had written to owners but eventually action had to be taken.

He said: “Having discovered that a gravestone is dangerous, in some cases very dangerous, if as a local authority we don't take immediate action and injury occurs people would ask us why, when we knew this was dangerous, we did not take immediate action. We are damned if we do and damned if we don't.”

A spokesman for Tendring District Council yesterday acknowledged the difficulty of finding those responsible for individual cemetery plots.

He explained: “Tendring took over most of its cemetery land quite a few years ago, along with early records which were not as comprehensive as we might have wished.

“Since that time many registered owners will themselves have passed on, moved away, or somehow broken the link with us.

“We do have a duty of care to make safe several hundred headstones that require urgent attention, and we have set aside £5-6k to do just that in the next few months.

“But individual owners of other plots requiring attention are responsible for any repairs, so we are appealing for them to contact the council to find out more about what should be done.”

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