Families seek answers over 'caution' signage

Gravestones in Whalley cemetery.
Gravestones in Whalley cemetery.
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Bereaved families are seeking answers after a council put “caution” tape on 175 headstones because they were deemed unsafe.

Loved ones of the deceased buried at Whalley, Wiswell and Barrow Cemetery were left devastated when they discovered the yellow tape on a large percentage of headstones.

In addition, the residents say some of the headstones have been toppled as they were deemed a health and safety risk.

But cemetery officials have defended the move explaining they had no option, but to tape off those potentially at risk.

Tracey Edwardson, whose mum Betty died earlier this year and is buried at the cemetery, branded the decision “disrespectful” and said the cemetery now looks like a building site.

The 43-year-old launched a petition on Facebook entitled “interference with gravestones” calling for the tape to be removed. The petition has already gathered almost 700 signatures.

She said: “My family visit this cemetery every single day, sometimes a couple of times a day to seek comfort sitting next to my mum’s grave, talking to her.

“We turned up one day last week to find 175 headstones with builder’s ‘CAUTION’ tape wrapped around them.”

“It is so disrespectful. Nobody was written to before they took this action.”

I know that because we have other family members buried up there and no-one was contacted about them. We want them to start again using a more respectful approach.”

Billington resident Roy Kay, whose mother, Ruth, is also buried at the cemetery commented: “I feel very angry by what has happened. As well as my mum, my partner Julie Robinson’s father is buried there and we are absolutely devastated. We have been told we will have to pay £180 to repair the gravestones. We were given no warning about this and I think it’s disgraceful.”

Appalled by the distress caused, Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans, said: “It is appalling; there are clearly more diplomatic and sensitive ways of dealing with the matter of the headstones. Putting up what looks like police tape around the cemetery is not a sensible way of doing things. It is easy to understand the heartache and frustration of the families of those who are buried there.”

Similar views were shared by Ribble Valley Mayor and Whalley resident Coun. Joyce Holgate, who said: “I have had a lot of telephone calls from grieving families who are so upset about what’s happened.

“I think there should have been more consultation before the tape was put on the headstones.”

The cemetery is owned jointly by Whalley and Wiswell parish councils and is managed by a committee made up of councillors from both parish councils.

Coun. Susan Earnshaw, chair of the burial committee, apologised for any heartache caused to families.

She added: “We heartily regret any upset caused, however, we sometimes have to take difficult decisions for the safety of visitors and the upkeep of the cemetery.

“Every five years we authorise a safety check of the memorials, this is advertised in the notice board and carried out by a qualified person.

“At the last safety check, 175 memorials were reported as needing attention.

“We were surprised by this figure and carried out a test of our own, at which we were shocked to find some very unsafe memorials.

“The Committee met at an urgent meeting to discuss the implications of these findings. It was noted that we could not pay to have 175 memorials fixed to current safety standards, at a cost of over £100 each and we needed owners to step forward.

“It was also decided that the safety of visitors to the cemetery was of the highest importance and our options seemed to be to lay flat the unsafe memorials or close the cemetery to visitors.

“Neither of these options seemed right. The decision to mark the defective memorials was considered to be an appropriate alternative given that it would warn visitors of the dangers and alert owners to their responsibilities.”