Renfrewshire Council called to 'think twice' about toppling headstones

-Credit: (Image: Macdonald Media)
-Credit: (Image: Macdonald Media)

A stark warning has been delivered to Renfrewshire Council after a petition aiming to stop the toppling of headstones was handed over last week.

Launched by Des Barr, chairman of the Friends of Hawkhead Cemetery, it asks the council not to lay gravestones deemed unsafe on the ground.

Having campaigned against the method for some time, Des says it is disrespectful to both the person’s grave and their family by not notifying them of the procedure.

According to campaigners, other local authorities operate a policy of ‘sinking’ to deal with unsafe headstones.

Renfrewshire Council has previously said that alternatives to toppling unsafe headstones in cemeteries are “not feasible”.

However, after gathering more than 1,500 signatures, Des says they must think again.

-Credit:Andrew Neil
-Credit:Andrew Neil

He told the Paisley Daily Express: “What they claim is that they are unable to get in touch with the layer holder and that there is no point as far as they are concerned to go further.

“We say that is wrong and they could use the various methods available to contact the family such as Tell Us Once, speaking with funeral directors etc.

“What we hope this petition will do is help highlight the feeling in the community on this matter.

“We will get to meet with the petition committee and all we can hope is that they say, ‘you’ve got a point and we will move to the council that they should take what Friends of Hawkhead believe to be correct’.

“I can’t say that they [the petition committee] will agree with this.

“What I want them to do is think twice about this, stop and think about if this is correct.

“To see as many people turn out as there was made me feel humbled.

“It was magnificent.”

The council is thought to have laid down around 1,500 headstones to date.

-Credit:Andrew Neil
-Credit:Andrew Neil
-Credit:Andrew Neil
-Credit:Andrew Neil

Des recalled seeing a person who discovered their mother’s headstone had been toppled after a visit – a move that broke their heart.

Prior to 2018, gravestones did not need to be pinned to the foundation stone but legislation was changed after an incident where an eight-year-old boy, Ciaran Williamson, died after a headstone fell on him at Craigton Cemetery in Cardonald, Glasgow nine years ago.

Des added that safety is paramount when making sure headstones are not a danger to the public but he insists most of them “don’t move”.

“The majority of the gravestones aren’t going anywhere,” he added.

“You are pushing the things and they move a very small margin before stopping or it will go back to where it was.

“Sometimes they can’t even move at all.

“But what we are saying to the council is please stop dropping the headstones.”

Last month, a council spokesperson told the Paisley Daily Express: “We have a duty of care for safety within our cemeteries and our fully qualified staff have been assessing headstones and carefully lying flat unsafe headstones in line with Scottish Government guidance issued following the tragic death of a child in a Scottish cemetery.

“We understand how emotive it is for families when a headstone has to be laid flat and this is only ever done when it poses a significant risk to safety due to movement or insufficient fixings.”

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