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Wooden stake and stapled paper notice obscures grave inscription at Teddington Cemetery


“Swift action to have the necessary repairs carried out,” says council warning


Council says gravestone, dated 2013, is ‘found to be unsafe.’


Stark safety warning notice from the council


“It is Health and Safety gone completely mad,” says Katherine Fisher. “Over-zealous and insensitive.”


“A veritable sea of warning notices,” says Katherine Fisher, whose husband, son and mother are buried there.


Wooden stakes, plastic bindings and paper warning notices


One hundred and sixty safety warning signs have been placed around gravestones in Teddington Cemetery, in some cases partly obscuring family inscriptions, and causing distress to visitors and relatives.

The signs, on pieces of paper, stapled to unsightly wooden stakes, with a bright yellow triangle sign and an exclamation mark, have been put in place on the instructions of Richmond Council.

Cheap looking plastic bindings secure the wooden stakes to the actual gravestone.

Underneath the triangular warning sign it says: “CAUTION – MEMORIAL IS UNSAFE, DO NOT TOUCH.”

One distressed relative,  Katherine Fisher, whose husband, son and mother are buried in the cemetery in Shacklegate Lane, told Teddington Town: “The action carried out by the cemeteries authorities is upsetting, offensive, disproportionate and a total waste of money.  In any case, there must surely be a more sensitive way of contacting grave owners from their database.”

The sign says: “Following recent memorial safety testing memorials found to be unsafe have now been identified and temporarily made safe.

“The council apologises for any distress this may have caused but treats safety with the highest priority.

“Memorial owners must now contact a suitably qualified contractor to take swift action to have the necessary repairs carried out to British Standard 8415 and current industry codes of practice.

“It is a legal requirement for councils to carry out regular safety testing to ensure the safety of memorials. Should you have any queries please contact us as below

The council action has also prompted protests on Facebook. Anne Wyllie wrote: “So it doesn’t matter that the roads are full of potholes and pavement kerbs are loose – absolute disgrace.”

Sally Pollard added: “If this is true the council really needs to think about their priorities. So much money spent on road tinkering and increasing congestion and yet……..!!!!!”

An anonymous comment read: “This is Health and Safety gone mad – and a desecration of scores of graves in a listed cemetery at Shacklegate Lane.”

Spokesperson: “Council has a legal requirement to carry out testing to ensure all our memorials are safe.”

Katherine, whose brother lives in Teddington, said: “Unfortunately I don’t know how many graves are affected or any other relatives involved, and according to the managers they are just ‘dealing with’ a couple of the zones in the cemetery at the moment.

“It is a large site and presumably this ‘inspection’ is carried out on some kind of rota system every 5 years or so – but I have been to the cemetery periodically over the last 30 years and have never seen anything like this. In the photographs it looks like a veritable sea of warning notices.

“My brother was walking through the cemetery on Monday, and was dumbfounded by what he saw there. I too, was horrified.

“It is Health and Safety gone completely mad.  We both thought it seemed like an elaborate, sick joke.  Fortunately, our family grave is not affected.”

Katherine has alerted local Lib Dem MP Munira Wilson to the situation and sent her photographs.

She said: “In my view the injury and fatality rates for modern, falling gravestones, in most cases less than 3 feet in height, is fairly negligible, if not non-existent.”

In her correspondence to the MP and other council officials, including the Leader of the Lib Dem Council, Cllr Gareth Roberts, she said: “I have looked into the matter myself and there have been two fatal incidents involving children and gravestones in the last 25 years.

“In one instance, the gravestone was 5′ high and in the second it was a monument of over 7′.  As far as I understand, in neither incident were the children under any adult supervision.

“In the second incident in Glasgow, a group of boys had climbed over the wall into the cemetery and the monument that fell, tragically and fatally injuring one child, weighed more than 2 and a half tons.

“The actions by the management of Shacklegate Lane Cemetery are totally disproportionate to the level of risk.  Almost all the graves on which these notices have been attached, with large unsightly wooden stakes, are extremely low in height and actually appear perfectly stable.”

She has also researched the Ministry of Justice guidance on managing the safety of memorials in cemeteries, which says:

Over the past few years the issue of memorial safety has from time to time been the subject of adverse publicity and public distress – often because of over-zealous risk assessments or poor communication. In light of this burial ground operators have expressed concern about how to respond appropriately to the risks presented by unstable gravestones. Significant risks should of course be properly managed – but the risk of injury from a gravestone or other memorial which has become loose and unstable is very low. That is why we issued a joint letter to burial authorities in March 2007 to make clear that any action to manage risks in burial grounds needed to be sensible, proportionate, and undertaken in a sensitive way.

Managing the safety of Burial Ground Memorials sets out good practice on the standard expected in the risk management of memorials in all types of burial grounds, public or private. The guidance states that the risk of any injury is extremely low and that any precautions should be proportionate to the level of risk. The routine use of mechanical test instruments is not recommended.”

Katherine Fisher says: “It would appear that these Government guidelines have not been taken into consideration at all by Richmond and Wandsworth Councils.

“It is unclear who has given instructions for these disproportionate actions to be taken in Shacklegate Lane Cemetery – but they need to be brought to account for their indisputably over-zealous, insensitive and, above all, unnecessary approach.

“The measures taken at this cemetery are disrespectful those deceased who may no longer have living relatives and also to those surviving relatives who may be extremely elderly themselves and unable to respond to the notices attached to the gravestones.

“As a side issue, I would also like to point out that the expense of the installation of wooden stakes, the printing of the notices and the manpower used to carry this out can only be described as a misguided use of stretched Council resources.”

In her letter to Ms Wilson MP, she says: “Please look at the attached photographs.  Richmond Council appear to have gone completely and utterly mad.  There are literally scores and scores of warning notices on gravestones in this cemetery,

“It’s almost beyond belief that this has happened as many cemeteries have gravestones which have moved over the years and in many cases this adds to the charm and poignancy of such places.

“My mother, husband and son all rest in this place, but our gravestones are not affected, thankfully.

“I think you will agree when you see the evidence that this is ‘job’s worthiness’ gone totally beyond what is acceptable. If I didn’t know better I would believe it was an elaborate prank.

“Please do give this your attention – and objections, I hope to the Local Authority.”

A Council spokesperson gave the following statement to Teddington Town: “As a burial authority, the Council has a legal requirement to carry out testing to ensure all our memorials are safe. Legally, testing must be carried out by trained professional contractors, every five years.

“The contractors temporarily make safe any memorials that fail the test but are not of immediate risk to the public. Any that pose an immediate risk are laid down.

“The wooden stakes are the mechanism chosen by the contractors to make safe the memorials and are provided as part of their overall programme costs.

“Once remedial work has been completed the stakes will be removed and reused by the contractor. In Teddington there are 160 memorials that need remedial work, from 750 tested, with a significant number within a section which is part of the safe routes to school scheme.

“The notices are installed with the stakes to ensure owners of the memorials are aware of why the stakes are in place and can arrange remedial works as quickly as possibly.

“Where the Council holds contact details of the owners, they are also contacted directly once the full inspection report is received from the contractor.

“Notices were posted in the cemetery to notify owners and visitors that the testing programme was being carried out. All activity is carried out within the guidelines of the ICCM.” (institute of Cemetery & Crematorium Management).


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