Unsafe graves row

South Ayrshire Council has been branded as “barbaric and insensitive” in its handling of the issue of unsafe headstones at Dailly Cemetery.

In the last few months, a number of headstones at the cemetery have been inspected by council staff and found to be in an “unsafe” condition. They have immediately been secured by means of a stake driven into the ground with a plastic band looped around the headstone. A notice giving relatives a number to ring is also displayed on the front.

But it is the lack of any warning that this has been done which has angered families.

Tom Brown, whose Mother and Father are buried there described the family’s emotions when they went to lay flowers on the grave last week.

“We as a family made our usual visit to Dailly Cemetery to place flowers on our parents’ grave to be confronted with their headstone which was one of the many to be banded with a notice stuck to it declaring it to be deemed unsafe and to contact a given phone number. My sisters were very upset at the way that South Ayrshire defaced our parents’ headstone in this manner – just how barbaric and insensitive can South Ayrshire be?”

Another person tending a nearby grave told the Brown family that she, too, was “disgusted” at the practice. This person also led the family to believe that South Ayrshire Council were insisting that the repairs, costing around £300, had to be carried out only by them, leading to a suspicion that it was part of a council “money-making” scheme, but this has been strongly denied by a spokesman.

Currently, more than a dozen headstones have been banded in the cemetery and two others have been laid flat while awaiting repair. It’s known that at least two other families have protested to the council and complained to their local councillor about the manner in which the issue is being handled.

One Dailly man, whose Father is buried there said: “We had no warning of what we were about to see when we went to the grave, as we do regularly. You would have thought that the council might have got in touch with us to warn us what to expect and to discuss the remedy but it was quite a shock when we saw what they had done to the grave.

“I’ve been in touch with my local councillor to complain. They need to deal with people with a great deal more respect than that.”

The Brown family, like others, are now in the process of bringing their own monumental mason to carry out the repair but they believe that the problem may have been caused by council activity in the first place.

Mr Brown said: “I know that two weeks ago the headstone was fine as I carried out the usual cleaning maintenance work on it. Furthermore the headstone is only five years old, and most certainly is not unsafe in any manner or form”.

South Ayrshire Council’s Leadership Panel reviewed its policy on the issue in November of last year in which it is stated that action is always taken to contact the owners of the grave at the earliest opportunity after the memorial has been made temporarily safe, however, it was not always possible to do so.

The review said: “In these instances, after three months, the posts and tie bands are removed to minimise the visual impact and the headstone is then sunk into the ground in an upright position leaving as much of the inscription as possible visible”.

The council says there is no basis for the belief that it was making money out of families affected by the safety checks and the policy document stresses that it was the owners’ responsibility to ensure that the memorial is safe and they may use any stonemason of their choosing as long as the work is done to a standard recognised by the National Association of Monumental Masons. The owners are also responsible for meeting the costs of the repair.

However, since 1994, the council has been responsible for laying the foundations of any memorial stone, so if the grave headstone was erected after that year, South Ayrshire Council will bear the costs of replacing it where necessary.

The council embarked two years ago on a programme to inspect all 35,000 memorials in South Ayrshire.

They have now completed over 7000 and the programme will take another seven years to complete. However, the main inspection programme has not reached Dailly yet.

Outwith this main programme, a number of localised groups of headstones in the cemetery have been inspected in order to ensure a safe working area for staff, mourners and masons.

A spokesman said: “We fully understand some families may be upset by the inspection process and deeply regret any distress this may cause.

“It is a very difficult situation and we accept it can be unpleasant.

“However, we work hard to find a sympathetic balance between our legal obligation to have safe cemeteries for families, staff and visitors, with minimum distress to those affected by the process. We urge anyone affected by the inspections to contact us directly for information, guidance and, where necessary additional support”.

Councillor Alec Clark said: “We need to uphold the sanctity of our local cemeteries and so, when such repairs are required, we do need to deal with the process in a sympathetic manner”.