Graves Laid Down as More Than 1,800 Deemed ‘Unsafe’ in Newcastle Cemeteries

Less than halfway through a comprehensive inspection by the Newcastle City Council, more than 1,800 memorials in the city’s cemeteries have been identified as safety hazards. This revelation comes in the wake of heavy criticism before Christmas, when grieving families discovered their loved ones’ headstones toppled at Heaton Cemetery.

Civic centre authorities explained that the precautionary laying down of hundreds of memorials at the Benton Road cemetery was a response to concerns about potential instability and falling hazards. The unsettling scene during the festive season prompted deep sadness and anger among relatives, accusing the council of neglecting the cemetery’s upkeep. Many described it as an “appalling” state resembling “mass vandalism,” particularly distressing given the increased number of visitors laying flowers and wreaths during that time.

According to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the council has confirmed that 1,326 headstones in Heaton have been laid down thus far, with ongoing safety inspections planned for the cemetery. Additionally, inspections completed last year at Jesmond Old Cemetery and West Road Cemetery resulted in 485 memorials being flagged as potential hazards, bringing the total number of identified safety concerns to 1,811.

Families across the city are now being forewarned of similar scenes, as safety checks at seven more graveyards are pending. The yet-to-be-inspected sites include All Saints Cemetery in Jesmond, Hollywood Cemetery in Gosforth, St John’s Cemetery in Elswick, Lemington Cemetery, North Gosforth Cemetery, St Andrew’s Cemetery in Jesmond, and St Nicholas Cemetery in Fenham.

A spokesperson for the council emphasised the importance of ensuring cemetery safety, acknowledging the significance of memorials for families paying respects. The safety inspections, initiated in June, aim to identify memorials not meeting safety standards. The spokesperson clarified that memorials are carefully laid flat, not pushed over, with inscriptions facing up to protect the stone. After inspections, efforts are made to contact grave owners, and a sign is placed at the headstone, requesting them to get in touch.

The safety checks involve visual and hand push tests for headstones over 2ft tall to assess stability. Unsafe memorials may be cordoned off, supported temporarily, or laid flat. The spokesperson stressed that evolving safety standards necessitate these inspections, and similar initiatives are taking place nationwide. The council provides support for families needing memorial repairs, with no fees charged, but the stone mason performing the repairs may require a fee. The council maintains that they do not financially benefit from these repairs, contrary to some media reports.