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Headstones drama to be heard at Holyrood

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By Marc McLean, local democracy reporter
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Headstones drama to be heard at Holyrood

THE controversial dismantling of headstones in Dumfries and Galloway without relatives being properly notified is likely to be discussed by Holyrood ministers in the coming months.

Mid and Upper Nithsdale Councillor Andrew Wood filed a petition with the Scottish Government’s public petitions committee earlier this year after failing to get sufficient answers from the council over its headstone safety programme.

Mr Wood has now heard that his petition had been published on the Scottish Government website for the public to view.

However, no date has yet been given for a debate on the matter because the committee’s schedule is yet to be finalised.

A total of 1140 headstones have been dismantled and “socketed” into the ground at cemeteries across the region without relatives being properly notified, causing anguish and anger.

Dumfries and Galloway Council hired contractors to make safe older headstones at 13 graveyards during 2019 and 2020.

However, Councillor Wood described the work as an “absolute botch-up”, and added: “Dumfries and Galloway has not followed the guidance set out clearly by the Scottish Government.”

Since his petition has been published, the Scottish Government has issued a response.

The deputy director for the Health Protection Division, who has responsibility for the legislation governing the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016, wrote: “Ensuring that people who have died are treated with the utmost dignity and respect at all times is of importance to the Scottish Government.

“In Scotland, responsibility for the management, safety and maintenance of each burial ground lies with relevant burial authority. Therefore, the Scottish Government is unable to intervene in operational matters affecting burial grounds, such as the making safe of memorials.

“It is likewise the duty of an employer to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all its employees and visitors. This includes keeping the burial ground safe for staff and the public attending the burial ground.

“These statutory obligations are primarily completed under both the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Occupier’s Liability (Scotland) Act 1960.

“The methods by which burial authorities choose to make safe memorials is a matter for each to determine as they deem appropriate.”

The government also stated the Burial Regulations Working Group resumed meeting in December 2021 to discuss the regulation of burial in Scotland, following a halt to its work due to the pandemic.

It stated: “Alongside these regulations, the Scottish Government will also prepare a statutory code of practice for burial authorities and associated guidance for the burial regulations, which will be informed by the working group and with engagement with the wider funeral sector.”

The Scottish Government instructed all local authorities to do remedial works at cemeteries to improve public safety, and Dumfries and Galloway Council is now halfway through a programme at 31 of its graveyards.

The remainder of the work is earmarked to be completed by the end of the year, despite complaints from relatives and the row over the previous phase.

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