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Outcry as council lay down ‘unsafe’ headstones

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FAMILIES have criticised Wiltshire Council’s decision to topple down  ‘unsafe’ headstones in Melksham Cemetery without telling anyone.

Last week, the council laid down flat a number of headstones in the cemetery after they failed safety tests carried out by council staff.

Stickers were placed on affected headstones informing relatives of the council’s actions. The stickers said, “We have been carrying out our five-yearly memorial safety inspection in accordance with our duty to ensure the cemetery is safe for members of the public and staff.” 

“Unfortunately our inspection found the memorial you own to be unsafe and it has been carefully and respectfully laid flat in order to prevent any accident. You are not legally obliged to restore the memorial, however if you wish to restore it, any work must be carried out by a qualified stonemason registered with us or the memorial will be laid again.”

However, relatives have hit out at the lack of warning, claiming that no notice was given prior to the inspections taking place.

One relative, whose mother-in-law’s headstone was laid down, told Melksham News, “We didn’t know anything about this until we paid a visit last week. We were so shocked to see it laid flat.

“When you looked around the cemetery you could see that there were lots more that had been knocked down – at least 50, if not more. It was quite a sight to see.

“It would’ve been nice if notice had been given that an inspection was due and that this was likely. It was so upsetting to see my mother-in-law’s grave in this state – some warning would’ve been nice.”

In response to the complaints Bridget Wayman, cabinet member for highways at Wiltshire Council said, “We have a statutory requirement to test the safety of headstones at our cemeteries every five years to ensure they continue to be safe places for people to work and visit. Our contractors carefully and respectfully lay down any headstones that don’t pass the safety checks. This will ensure the safety of visitors and also protect the memorials themselves from damage caused by falling over.

“We appreciate this is a sensitive issue and we personally write to the family or those responsible for the headstone as soon as possible so they are aware of the situation and the options available to them.

“This work has been carried out at all the cemeteries we are responsible for and we put notices up at each one so that visitors had advanced warning. Headstones that have been in place for a number of years are at risk from toppling over, so it’s essential this work is carried out, but we apologise to anyone who is affected by it and any distress that may be caused.”

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