Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

Mourners were shocked to discover 87 headstones had been flattened at Haxby and Wigginton Cemetery (Picture: SWNS)

Heartbroken families have accused cemetery bosses of ‘an act of vandalism’ for pulling down dozens of headstones which they had deemed unsafe.

Mourners were shocked to discover 87 headstones had been flattened at Haxby and Wigginton Cemetery near York, this week.

The stone memorials had been laid on the ground by workmen during a ‘topple test’.

Tracey Smith, whose brother’s headstone has been pulled down, said: ‘It’s like an act of vandalism.

‘This has caused a lot of heartbreak and upset within the community as this has not been communicated with people who have not been given time to rectify issues.’

Haxby and Wigginton Cemetery Committee said they’d been laid flat as part of its ‘statutory health and safety requirement of running a cemetery’ as they were unsafe.

Gates to the cemetery had a notice warning of the ‘mandatory exercise’ attached, dated October 9 and written on Haxby Town Council headed paper.

The notice says that all upright headstones had been subjected to an independent ‘topple test’ to see if they were safe.

One grieving relative dubbed it an act of ‘vandalism’ (Picture: Lee McLean/SWNS)

Some headstones had failed the test, it said, and would need to be laid flat. The notice added that the work was being done on October 11.

Haxby Town Council said: ‘There have been several meetings of the Haxby and Wigginton Cemetery Committee since November, the last of those was a few weeks ago when it was agreed to carry out its responsibility in testing the memorial stones which was carried out by a qualified stone mason.

‘This does not mean they have not been tested in between this period but this was hand wobble testing at site visits by members.’

But furious families with loved ones buried in the cemetery say they were not given sufficient notice.

Mourners said the graveyard ‘looked like a scene of devastation’ (Picture: Lee McLean/SWNS)

Kirsty Richmond said she should have been given earlier warning about the tests and would have wanted to witness the test to her father’s gravestone.

She said: ‘My dad’s was one of those which in our family’s opinion was not loose or leaning, we always check when we go.

‘The option of repair has been taken away.’

Safety checks were introduced in British cemeteries to stop hefty memorials falling on people and killing them.

According to official guidance, the so-called ‘topple tests’ are meant to involve workmen standing next to memorials and pushing them to see if they are unsteady.

Home Office rules make clear relatives should be properly informed if their loved ones’ graves are disturbed.

Haxby and Wigginton Cemetery Committee said in a statement: ‘Visitors will notice that a number of gravestones have been laid flat in the cemetery.

‘The committee are not vandalising the cemetery, of which they have been accused, but rather meeting a statutory health and safety requirement of running a cemetery.

‘Where a gravestone is loose and no longer safely fixed to the ground we are required to lay it down flat on the ground, as advised by a qualified stonemason, to ensure the safety of visitors to the cemetery.

‘A gravestone’s maintenance is the responsibility of the family who purchase the grave at the time and all those for whom we have information, acknowledging that some information we hold may not be up to date as no new details have been provided to us, will be contacted asking them to repair their graves.’

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