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Council tells bereaved: \'complain to masons\'

15 August 2001

Earlier this year the Association of Burial Authorities in conjunction with insurers Zurich Municipal took a roadshow around the country to point out to burial authorities the dangers from insecure headstones.

As a result of one of those seminars, held in April, Restormel Borough Council in St Austell, Cornwall, decided to carry out inspections of the memorials in the cemeteries and churchyards in its area.

The action was prompted, said the council, by hearing at the seminar of the death of a child, crushed by a 2m headstone, in a Harrogate cemetery, London, last June.

Cllr Charmain Licsauer, environment member of the Cabinet at Restormel, said: Safety of people visiting cemeteries is of paramount importance and the responsibility of care that local councils have cannot be overestimated.

The Authority will be doing all it can to safeguard the public\'s wellbeing when visiting cemeteries and taking an active lead over the next 12 months.

A team will be visiting all the Council\'s cemeteries and churchyards testing headstones and taking the necessary action to alleviate any danger to the public.

The necessary action so far has involved laying down any headstone in imminent danger of falling and putting notices on them. Others that are less of a danger but in need of attention are left standing but also have a notice on them.

The notices warn people of the danger and ask them not to tamper with the memorials but to contact their monumental mason or the Parks Department at Restormel Borough Council.

The Council will be maintaining a complete record of all headstones inspected, logging the grave number, the name on the headstone and its condition on inspection. This first year will be a primary audit and there will be a continuous programme of reinspections in subsequent years.

Many might consider the sensible response from memorial masons would be to welcome such a safety programme but some have complained bitterly.

People whose stones have been paid flat have also complained. A Mr R A Stokes wrote a letter to the Cornish Guardian complaining: No headstones were unstable until the uncalled for intervention of these up-country jobsworths.

But the programme has identified some bad fixing practices, including the absence of dowels between base and stone, rusting dowels, and even a case of dowels being set into soft bath sealer.

On the other hand, masons say notices are popping up everywhere. According to Ken Lawcombe in St Austells, a President of NAMM in the 1980s but now retired, one even appeared on a 200mm high granite flower vase.

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