Families distraught after more than 50 gravestones were laid down without their knowledge or consent

Vera and Robin Stopforth with their relative's gravestone (left) and Carol Wignall with the gravestone of her grandparents
Vera and Robin Stopforth with their relative's gravestone (left) and Carol Wignall with the gravestone of her grandparents
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Loved ones have vented their anger and frustration after more than 50 gravestones were laid down at a village graveyard without their knowledge or consent - with some describing it as an act of 'vandalism'.

The cemetery at Croston, just south of St Michael and All Angels Church in Church Street, has been the scene of between 50 and 60 gravestones being laid down on apparent safety grounds by the Church of England in Lancashire, also known as the Diocese of Blackburn.

More gravestones laid down

More gravestones laid down

But residents in the area, who have deceased loved ones buried in the cemetery, have described their horror and stress at the situation, claiming to have not been consulted prior to the act last week.

It has resulted in loved ones turning up to graves to find the headstones on the floor.

Peter Turner, whose wife Jennifer’s mother’s grave has been affected, described the act as “vandalism”.

The 71-year-old said: “My wife tends to the grave every two weeks. There were fresh flowers on there when they did the work.

Arnold Gaskell, front right, with relatives of the deceased and members of the community are angry and upset after gravestones have been pushed over, with no warning, due to health and safety, at Croston Cemetery, St Michael and All Angels Churchyard, Croston

Arnold Gaskell, front right, with relatives of the deceased and members of the community are angry and upset after gravestones have been pushed over, with no warning, due to health and safety, at Croston Cemetery, St Michael and All Angels Churchyard, Croston

“We heard on the grapevine [the church] had been laying down gravestones and it turned out my mother-in-law’s was one of them.”

Peter said that he had spoke to church Reverend Michael Woods about the situation.

“He said he has done it for health and safety reasons,” Peter explained.

“[But] they should have consulted us. It’s the main issue really. It has upset people.

A cross gravestone laid down

A cross gravestone laid down

“If you want to do something like this you have to buy people into it. If you don’t they will go against you. If they can understand [before it happens] they could be on your side.”

Peter explained how in discussion with other affected families, one lady has been quoted £500 to restore her gravestone – which was also reportedly broken in the process of being laid down.

He said: “She says it was not broken before it was laid down. [The gravestones] have been vandalised.

“There’s now an added cost in restoring them upright.”

The notice at St Michael's Church in Croston

The notice at St Michael's Church in Croston

Mr Turner has sent a letter of complaint concerning the work to Rev. Michael addressing what he believes is a misinterpretation of the Diocese of Blackburn and Ministry of Justice guidelines on managing the safety and burial of ground memorials.

He told the Post that he was told by the Reverend that the letter has been forwarded to the Archdeacon of Blackburn, the Venerable Mark Ireland, for a response when he returns from annual leave.

Arnold Gaskell, whose wife’s grandmother is also buried there, said: “It’s just vandalism what they have done. My wife was really upset.”

Mr Gaskell along with Mr Turner both noted that the church put a notice up about the situation – but only after the toppling had taken place.

The notice, signed by Rev Michael, reads that some memorial headstones were found to be “unstable” and in a “dangerous condition”, but that the decision to lay them down was not taken lightly.

Mr Gaskell added: “I went to see the Reverend because I was quite annoyed at something like 50 stones being laid down. The usual practice is to put tape around it and do something about [any damage] but they haven’t done this.”

Speaking to the Post, Rev Michael apologised for any upset families but added that the church is legally responsibly for the health and safety of the churchyard.

He said: "We sincerely apologise to families who are upset that gravestones of loved ones have been laid flat in the churchyard.

"The church is legally responsible for ensuring the health and safety of users of the churchyard, and following a recent tragic case in our diocese we were asked to be extremely vigilant with regard to the stability of gravestones.

"Our Churchyard is maintained by volunteers who aim to make it a place of comfort and solace for the families of those who are laid to rest here and for all our visitors.

"Our attention was drawn to a gravestone that had recently fallen over and two large gravestones that were very unstable, probably due to the unusually dry weather. We therefore took immediate action to lay down some gravestones to prevent possible injury to all the users of the churchyard, including children."

Rev Michael acknowledged that grave checks should be done on an annual basis and afterwards, due notice should be given. He acknowledged this was not the case.

He said: "On testing the remainder of the gravestones we made the decision to lay down further stones on health and safety grounds.

"Such checks should normally be done on an annual basis and after due notice is given. We are sorry that in this case due notice was not given and we are sorry for the distress caused to families.

"We would like to assure parishioners that in future we will follow approved procedures in relation to annual checks and the giving of notice. If stones are considered to be an imminent danger, action will have be taken and a notice giving an explanation will be attached. Where gravestones are considered to be unstable but not an immediate danger a notice advising families to take action will be attached.

"We accept that during this inspection we may have laid more gravestones down than were required under the category of ‘immediate danger’ and we are sorry for the distress this has caused.

"The parish will endeavour to work alongside relatives to assist with re-erecting memorial stones and we will now re-assess each of the stones that was recently laid down."

If families have any concerns they should contact the Rector, Revd Michael Woods (01772 600548, revmwoods@gmail.com)