Council bosses have sparked anger by tearing down any “dangerous” cemetery headstones over 18 inches high in a health and safety purge on 50,000 graves.
Mourners at first believed the plots in north Yorkshire had been destroyed by vandals. But tiny stickers attached to the head stones in three cemeteries in Scarborough revealed the memorials had been uprooted and laid on the ground by council workmen.
Safety checks were introduced in British cemeteries years ago to stop heavy memorials falling on people and injuring them. But many of the stones targeted at three cemeteries in Scarborough were little over knee height, prompting outrage from families.
According to official guidance, the so called “topple tests” are meant to involve workmen standing next to memorials and pushing them to see if they are unsteady.
Pictures shared on social media have revealed any headstone over 18 inches tall has been targeted. In some cases, the bases are still in the ground and workmen have wrenched off the plaques, breaking the corners off.
The Home Office rules also make clear relatives should be properly informed if their loved ones graves are disturbed. Scarborough Council bosses have been accused of ignoring families, who only found out what had happened when they arrived to lay flowers or read about it on Facebook.
Relatives will be charged £330 for stone masons to put the headstones back up but families face bills of more than £1,000 to replace those which have been broken while being dismantled.
Scarborough Borough Council said: “A sensitive audit of memorial headstones in our three cemeteries to check they are stable and don’t pose a safety risk to people that visit the cemeteries and the staff that work in them, began in July and is continuing.
“No headstones have been damaged by our staff and contractors. They are not pushed over but if they pose an immediate safety risk they may be carefully laid down and positioned on the grave face up so that the inscription can still be read.
“The small signs attached to the headstones advise people to contact us if they have any queries. We do our very best to place the signs without obscuring the memorial text.
“Communications about the work were carried out from early June to give people plenty of notice. This included putting up signs throughout the cemeteries, which are still in place, an article in the June edition of our digital newsletter, Residents’ News, which goes to around 40,000 subscribers, a news release to print, online and broadcast media and information booklets at local stonemasons. We added a digital version of the booklet to our website and put information on our social media channels.
“We also wrote directly to owners of graves that were deemed unsafe. Our records show a letter was issued in respect of the grave mentioned in the Daily Telegraph article.”