Headlines: January 19th, 2009

Some councils and other burial ground operators have been accused of being heavy handed in the way they are dealing with memorials and headstones even when they are not a serious safety risk. New guidance has been published to make it clear that gravestones should be staked or lain down only as a last resort.

The Local Government Minister, John Healey, said, “Heavy-handed actions by some graveyard operators, including councils, have caused unnecessary distress for people. While it is quite right that they protect visitors from genuine danger they must also consider their feelings.”

The new guidance comes from the Justice Minister, Bridget Prentice, and applies to all burial grounds in England. It calls on those responsible to take a sensible approach when they assess the safety of memorial stones and the risk they may represent. The Minister said cemeteries were important areas of peace and reflection and it was essential that they were maintained so they did not pose a risk to the public. She added, “However, bereaved families can feel distressed if a memorial stone for a loved one is laid down, propped up, or otherwise marked for repair, without them being made aware.”

The new guide suggests organisations running burial grounds should develop their local knowledge of the different types of memorials to identify designs, historical importance and public footfall. They should also make an overall assessment of the risks associated with these types of memorials to assist in the prioritisation of more detailed inspections. The guidelines also warn that the use of mechanical test instruments can be misleading and is not necessary.