Families in Newcastle are expressing deep sorrow and frustration after the City Council laid flat hundreds of headstones in three cemeteries, citing safety concerns. The move has left many bereaved individuals shocked and feeling disrespected, with some claiming they were not adequately informed by the authorities.
Newcastle City Council initiated a city-wide inspection of all headstones in its ten cemeteries, focusing on Jesmond Old Cemetery, West Road Cemetery, and Heaton Cemetery. Out of the 25,014 memorials examined, 3,236 were identified as requiring repairs, with approximately one-third of them already laid flat after being marked with yellow caution notices.
One of the affected residents, who preferred to remain anonymous, expressed heartbreak after learning about the fate of a family member’s headstone. They stated, “I received a call informing me that my family member’s headstone had been pulled over by the council. It was heartbreaking, and I’m not typically emotional. I don’t cry without reason.”
The council claims to have posted notices in the cemeteries prior to initiating the work, asserting that efforts were made to contact the last known owners of the plots if a gravestone needed repair. However, some affected individuals argue that they were not adequately informed, leaving them blindsided by the actions taken.
“I’ve passed the cemetery loads of times since and I have been too scared to come in. But here I am now, and I am devastated,” the anonymous source added.
Another affected individual from Heaton discovered that the joint headstone of their grandmother, mother, and sister had been removed and laid across the grave. They expressed devastation, stating, “I was devastated, I couldn’t believe it. When we were walking over to the grave, I could see something, and I said ‘what’s that on the grave?’ And I just got myself totally upset.”
Despite the council’s assertion that yellow notices were placed to inform the public about the inspections, the anonymous source claimed they did not see any such notices despite regular visits to the cemetery. They now face a repair cost of £350 to £400 for the small headstone.
“What about the people who haven’t got anybody?” they questioned. “What’s going to happen to theirs? They’ll just be left, and that’s so sad.”
The council, defending its actions, emphasized that the inspections commenced in June with the primary goal of ensuring the safety of cemeteries for visitors and staff. They issued a statement saying, “We understand this is an emotive and sensitive subject, but we would like to reassure families that the work is carried out with the greatest respect and sensitivity.”
The statement also clarified the council’s attempt to contact the last known owner if a headstone needed repair, although acknowledging that this might not always be possible.
“My family member has been deceased for 38 years, and we’ve always maintained their grave, and this is what we get,” the anonymous source said, expressing the frustration shared by many affected families. The financial burden of repairing the headstones, coupled with the emotional toll of discovering the flattened memorials, has sparked outrage and raised questions about the communication and sensitivity of the council’s approach.
The council outlined a procedure where if the plot owner cannot afford the repair within 12 months or cannot be located, the memorial is likely to remain laid down for permanent safety. This has further fueled concerns about the fate of graves where the owners may not have the means to rectify the situation.
As the affected families grapple with the emotional and financial aftermath, the Newcastle City Council faces mounting criticism for its handling of the situation. The debate between public safety and sensitivity towards grieving families continues, leaving many to question the council’s decision-making and communication strategies in this delicate matter.