Residents slam ‘disrespectful’ cemetery inspections and ‘horrible’ warning signs

Residents have slammed the “disrespectful” way in which cemetery inspections have been carried out – but councillors have highlighted their duty to ensure they are safe.

Gravestones in Lynn, Hunstanton, Walpole St Andrew and Marshland St James have been subject to West Norfolk Council reviews during the past few months, which aim to ensure they are “stable”.

However, many owners have been left frustrated by a lack of communication from the authority – with some only finding out that their memorials have been deemed unsatisfactory via social media.

Lynn resident Makenzie Collison's grandfather's grave has been earmarked by West Norfolk Council
Lynn resident Makenzie Collison’s grandfather’s grave has been earmarked by West Norfolk Council

The borough council has said that reaching out to all of them is “time-consuming”, but that it aims to have written to everyone affected by the end of the month.

Lynn man Makenzie Collison, 26, was angered after finding out his grandfather’s grave will require maintenance through a Facebook post – more than a month after it was first marked by the council.

He and his family originally attended his grandmother’s memorial at Gayton Road as it is “a bit wonky”. However, they found no message on it.

“But my grandfather’s grave, which is sturdy as anything, has got this horrible yellow tag on it saying it’s unsafe,” Mr Makenzie said.

It was the anniversary of his grandfather’s death on Sunday, which also coincided with Father’s Day.

“I had to witness my dad sit and look at this tag. He was shaking it and trying to work out why it’s unsafe, but it’s not even moving,” he added.

“You look across the whole cemetary, and I would say a good percentage of it have got those tags on them.

“There are people with gravestones who only died two years ago – they’ve got one. So clearly that’s not unsafe.

“They haven’t contacted anyone. I think it’s disgusting, and there might be other people who haven’t heard about this.

“There are going to be poor family, friends or relatives going down for Father’s Day to pay their respects, and they’re going to get there, see these horrible yellow tags and not know anything about it.

“It’s such a disrespectful way to treat people who have passed.”

However, the borough council says that in its role as a burial authority, it has a responsibility to maintain the cemeteries in its catchment area.

Inspections at Lynn’s Hardwick Road site were also carried out, as well as at Hunstanton’s Alexandra Road, Police Road in Walpole St Andrew and Smeeth Road in Marshland St James.

The council uses a national standard to assess whether or not a memorial is safe.

A spokesperson said: “The graves and memorials within cemeteries are purchased by individuals – usually family members of deceased persons – and they retain ownership of these.

“This means that if remedial work is required to make a memorial safe, it is up to the owner to carry it out, although we will provide help and advice with this process.

“West Norfolk Council conducted inspections in five cemeteries in the borough in May.

“In advance of doing this, a press release was issued and notices were put up in the cemeteries being inspected.

“Out of more than 8,000 memorials tested, just over 900 have been identified as needing attention.

“Where it is considered that a memorial needs remedial work to make it safe, we do our best to contact the owner of the grave.

“This is not always straightforward. Most people who move house would not consider making the council aware of this fact for the purposes of grave ownership, and sometimes – especially with older graves – owners can be difficult to trace.

“As a result, contacting owners can be a time-consuming and complex process.

“In the meantime, we have put labels on the relevant graves while we make efforts to contact people.

“We are aware that a small number of people have put photos on social media groups to complain about this.

“Unfortunately, that has resulted in some grave owners experiencing distress because they found out through social media before we were able to contact them.

“We are in the process of writing to affected grave owners and would ask people to be patient.

“If anyone has discovered a label on a grave for which they are responsible, but has not received a letter from us by the end of June, we will be very happy to help – please contact Mintlyn Crematorium on 01553 630533.

“We also have a FAQ document, which gives guidance on how to go through the process of making a memorial safe and includes details of appropriately-qualified persons.”

Notices advising that the testing was taking place had been displayed at the cemeteries in advance of work being carried out.

Work consisted of a visual inspection followed by a hand test of each memorial’s stability.

If an immediate safety risk was identified, the memorial was lay down on the grave space.