FAMILIES have been left upset and angry after 180 grave stones in a Christleton churchyard were taken down without their consent following a health and safety inspection.
Rector Peter Lee of St James’s Church said he was shocked and saddened that 101 stones in the front section of the churchyard and 80 older stones had to be laid flat after an inspection last Monday.
The Chronicle has received a number of phone calls from people whose relatives are buried there expressing their shock.
One caller, who did not wish to be named, said: “We were just very upset, we were shocked that we hadn’t been informed this had to be done. We found out from a friend. It just looks a mess.”
The Parochial Church Council (PCC) said it has an obligation to undertake a detailed health and safety inspection of the stones.
The inspection was to examine each gravestone and make sure they fit strict criteria. The inspectors are not allowed to leave any stones in an unsafe condition so that’s why they had to be taken down immediately.
St James’s churchwarden Keith Smalls said: “We were very surprised and shocked about the number of stones which were deemed unsafe.
“We understand this will upset people and a number of people have expressed their shock, but we have to make sure the churchyard is safe.”
Rev Lee added: “Many of the gravestones are relatively new and people will justifiably wonder why they are regarded as unsafe.
“In most cases this is because of a change in the regulations which now insist on ground anchors going down through the base.
“Most of the stones which have been laid down have no such rods and the vertical headstone is in danger of falling over under pressure.
“It is actually the older stones which have been buried deep and been there longer which are safer.”
Revd Lee said they have been unable to contact the families of the stones which have been laid down just because they do not have the contact details.
“Unlike a cemetery we do not keep a record of the next of kin. In a cemetery you buy the plot so the details are kept whereas in a churchyard there is a right to burial.”
Mr Small is also trying to contact the families of those whose remains are in the cremation area of the yard as it is going to be refurbished and the stones moved.
The PCC is asking families to contact a stone mason to get them re-erected. If you have any queries please contact churchwarden Keith Smalls on 01244 335688.