Vicar calls for peace after grave ruling

A VICAR who caused a storm of controversy by declaring a church graveyard was full called for a community to "reconcile" last night after a special court backed his decision.

A VICAR who caused a storm of controversy by declaring a church graveyard was full called for a community to "reconcile" last night after a special court backed his decision.

The Rev Richard Salenius said he hoped a consistory court judgement that the graveyard at All Saints' Church, Brightlingsea, could take no more burials would end months of bitterness and allow the town to move on.

But last night there were signs the close-knit community remained deeply split over the row.

The rarely convened court sat at the town's ancient church in November after 90-year-old Brightlingsea man, Joe French, tried to reserve a plot for him and his wife, Kay, 84, in 2003.

Mr Salenius and the parochial church council had declared the yard full and applied to the Home Office to close it.

His move meant that some people were forced to bury their loved ones in neighbouring towns and villages.

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This outraged large numbers of Brightlingsea's 8,000 residents who attended an angry public meeting last year to try and resolve the issue.

Brightlingsea Town Council also rejected the church's stance and commissioned a geophysical survey to identify possible new plots.

The row, which prompted a "complete" review by the Home Office into how it handled graveyard closure applications, was even reported in the New York Times.

George Pullman, QC, Chancellor of the Diocese of Chelmsford, spent a week in the town hearing all sides in November.

In a statement issued yesterday, the diocese said Mr Pullman had declared there was no further space for new burials.

However, Mr French's application for a plot for him and his wife was allowed, the statement added.

The judgment found that some suggested burial areas in Brightlingsea churchyard were deemed inappropriate because they were needed for access.

An area near the spoil heap could not be used for burials as there was evidence it contained existing unmarked graves used since 1929, the chancellor ruled.

Lastly, he ruled out an area known as Donkey Walk because this would disturb protected trees.

A spokesman for the diocese said the chancellor found a number of "misunderstandings" between the parties involved.

The Archdeacon of Colchester, the Venerable Annette Cooper, said: "This matter has been a very sensitive issue for everyone involved.

"I hope that the people of Brightlingsea, together with the church and parish priest, will be able to come together to work for the good of the town."

Mr Salenius added: "This judgment is the culmination of many months of uncertainty for us all in Brightlingsea, and I do hope that we can find a way forward for reconciliation within our town."

But Mr French, of Tower Street, said: "The decision is excellent for me, but I think there will be a lot of angry people in the town.

"It's difficult to say whether there will be any reconciliation - there's a lot of feeling about this.

"I've heard people say they want the vicar to go, but I don't want to get into that. I respect the man and this is not about personalities."

Town councillor Peter Patrick, who told the consistory court of "rifts" in the community, said he did not want to comment on the town's next move until he had read the full judgment.

He added: "We're surprised by the ruling. We're not sure where we're at - the church says the yard is full, but Home Office hasn't."

A spokesman for the Home Office said a final decision would be made after examining the ruling. He said: "It is not our role to support or oppose a case. In this case, evidence we were sent showed there appeared to be space still available for further burials.

"The available space seemed very limited and the Home Office recognised that the application for closure would be put forward a once that space had been filled.

"In the interim the consistory court hearing took place. We have always hoped that the parochial church council and the town council and the other parties could work together to agree the future of this Churchyard.

"We will study the findings of the court before deciding how to take this forward."

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