Council has 'no evidence' of disturbed graves at church being turned into mosque

Council officials have found 'no evidence' of graves being disturbed at a disused historic church set to be turned into a mosque - after concerns were raised by the public. Plans were lodged last August to convert the Grade II*-listed St John's Church, in Hanley, back into a place of worship and community centre.

The Town Road church dates back to 1788, closed in the 1980s, and up until 2020 was used as an antiques centre and tearoom. A video has been circulating on social media which it is claimed shows stacks of gravestones, some of them damaged, as external works were being carried out at the site.

The video has prompted a spate of objections to the mosque plan submitted to Stoke-on-Trent City Council, with objectors raising concerns over the 'disgusting' damage to 'ancient headstones'. The church was originally surrounded by a graveyard, and while exhumations took place prior to the construction of the adjacent Potteries Centre in the 1980s, there may still be human remains present beneath the site.

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Now council officers have visited the site and found no evidence of works currently being carried out, or that any graves had been disturbed.

A spokesperson for the city council said: "We are aware of the video which has recently resurfaced on social media and appears to date from September 2023. The concerns raised in this video are historical. Officers have visited the site and found no evidence of further works being carried out or any public health or safety concerns. It should be noted that St John's Church ceased operation in 1985, having had uses other than as a place of worship since.

"Although it is probable that graves are present within the area around the church, there is no evidence to indicate that any have been disturbed. If any illegal activity is identified, including a non-permitted use of the building, we will ensure that appropriate action is taken. A planning application for a change of use of the building has been submitted, but has yet to be determined."

The Darul Falah centre purchased the disused St John's Church for £140,000 last year. According to the planning application, returning the building to its original purpose as a place of worship and community facility would be 'completely logical and appropriate' and would allow it to 'once again serve the area as a cultural and community asset'.

While the building would be primarily used as a mosque, there would also be space on the ground floor available to the community 'and to individuals of all faiths or none'. The application has prompted more than 50 representations from members of the public so far, from both supporters and objectors.

In his comment, supporter Atiqulah Hossaini said: "Utilising the church helps in maintaining its architectural beauty. Vacant buildings can degrade, but this move ensures the conservation of a valuable piece of our city's past."

Objector Nicholas Longmore said: "I object to the plan to change the use of the church and grounds. The church is planned to become a mosque which in itself is of a detriment to anybody who wishes to attend the church for personal reasons. The church is also of a heritage to Stoke-on-Trent, with hundreds of years of history that will be wiped out by these plans."

StokeonTrentLive has approached The Darul Falah centre for a statement regarding the graves row.

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