Council update cemetery safety policy for Argyll

Argyll and Bute Council

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Residents who fail to maintain their loved ones’ memorial in an Argyll and Bute cemetery risk having it cordoned off, a report has warned.

Members of the council’s environment, development and infrastructure committee have considered an updated policy for the maintenance and safety of cemeteries in the area following a report to the committee stating that around 45 per cent of information on lair holders – those permitted to bury loved ones in a plot – is thought to show people who are still alive.

A warning is given that any memorials thought by council staff to be unsafe will be laid flat on the ground, inscription side up, at the next inspection. Multiple unsafe memorials in the same area will mean the zone is cordoned off.

Cemeteries are inspected every three years, but the next one could be imminent after recommendations by Sheriff Linda Ruxton as part of a fatal accident inquiry earlier this year into the death of young Ciaran Williamson at Craigton cemetery in Glasgow. Eight-year-old Ciaran died instantly after an unsafe headstone fell on him at the cemetery in May 2015.

The updated Argyll and Bute Council policy, written by the authority’s amenity services operations manager Tom Murphy, says: ‘Argyll and Bute Council will manage the risk associated with an unsafe memorial by laying it flat or closing off areas within a cemetery or burial ground with no unsupervised access. Argyll and Bute Council acknowledge that this may cause issues regarding the aesthetic appearance of a cemetery but safety must be the overriding factor.

‘Contact will be made with the registered lair holder to enable them to make arrangements to re-erect the memorial. If no current lair holder can be identified from the lair register, Argyll and Bute Council will undertake to manage the risk presented by this category of stones by limiting access to the area and/or laying the stone flat on the ground, inscription face up.

‘Memorials found to be immediately unsafe at inspection will be laid flat on the ground. Where an area in the cemetery of burial ground has a number of unsafe memorials the area will be cordoned off.

‘Information will be posted at the site, on Argyll and Bute Council’s website and on memorials or fences. The information will seek to ask any person believing they have the right of ownership to contact Argyll and Bute Council.’

A report for the meeting compiled by executive director of development and infrastructure Pippa Milne adds: ‘The responsibility for memorial upkeep and maintenance rests with the burial lair owner.

‘Where details of the burial lair owner are known they will be contacted regarding any works that are required to be carried out on memorials. Where memorials pose an immediate danger and/or owners cannot be traced, memorials will be laid on the ground, inscription up.

‘The policy document sets out the inspection regime for the 131 cemeteries in Argyll and Bute and also sets out what action will be followed should a dangerous or potentially dangerous memorial be found.’