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Council under pressure to leave headstones

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By Marc Mclean, Local Democracy Reporter
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Council under pressure to leave headstones

A PLEA was made this week for Dumfries and Galloway Council to halt the controversial dismantling of headstones in cemeteries across the region.

This comes after families made small claims against the local authority over damage to headstones of their loved ones – and an investigation was launched by the Ombudsman.

The council had undertaken work over the past year to improve safety for cemetery visitors, which included removing some headstones deemed unsafe from their plinths.

They were then “socketed” into the ground and in some cases part of the inscriptions were buried.

However, relatives were not properly informed, causing emotional distress and sparking complaints about vandalism.

The matter was discussed at Thursday’s full council meeting after Councillor Andrew Wood called for changes to be implemented.

He tabled a motion, backed by Councillor Matthew Ronnie, which reads: “Our council recognises the legal requirement set out by the Scottish Government, on health and safety grounds, to check and make safe all headstones within our region.

“The matter, of the damage caused to so many headstones during the process of ‘making safe’ within the B listed cemetery in Sanquhar has been referred for investigation by the Ombudsman including the issue that the required listed building consents were not sought prior to the works being undertaken.

“Small claims for the reinstatement of damaged headstones have been submitted by family members to D&G Council and a petition has been lodged with the Scottish Parliament, asking for all local authorities, to ensure that a budget is in place for the maintenance and repair of headstones, so as to preserve the history and heritage of our communities, while giving thought and consideration for the feelings and emotions of families who have witnessed first-hand, the devastating and destructive damage carried out to date.

“We therefore ask that the present method of dismantling and digging into the lair to erect part of headstone is stopped and that the more acceptable and recognised practice of staking and strapping is adopted until the conclusion of both the Ombudsman’s investigation and the outcome of the petition lodged with the Scottish Parliament.”

Earlier this year, the council’s community asset manager Nicola Simpson admitted there was a communications failure over the scheme to make headstones safe.

Ms Simpson investigated complaints made by residents and concluded that the “council is not at fault” for the actions it took in trying to make memorials safe.

But she conceded that more could have been done to let relatives know in advance that the work would be carried out.

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