Published: August 9, 2010
Council and church respond to 'grave desecration' concerns

Badgers or vandals have been blamed for removing flowers marking the locations of cremated remains in a Burnham-On-Sea churchyard. reported on Monday how Burnham resident Alex Turco, pictured, was left angry after ceremonial plants left next to his father's grave - along with five others - in the Garden of Remembrance outside St Andrew's Church had been removed.

It appeared that workers from Sedgemoor District Council, who maintain the ground, may have mowed over the plants - but the council strongly denied on Monday that this has happened.

Adrian Gardner, the council's Group Manager of Environment and Strategic Housing, said in a letter to Mr Turco: "I visited the Garden of Remembrance this morning with the Area Supervisor, Keith Cann, from our Clean Surroundings Service to investigate, and I was also able to speak with Reverend Witts."

"There are three issues: firstly, the removal/damage to the Echeverias plant at your father's grave; secondly, the removal of other plants and flowers along one side of the Garden of Remembrance; and thirdly damage to a small tree marking one corner of the Garden of Remembrance."

"With reference to the damage to the small tree, the small tree has been damaged, but it appears that the stem was broken some months ago. The tree is in very poor condition and Reverend Witts indicated that the tree, and one other, were to be replaced in the Autumn. There is no suggestion that the ground maintenance team caused this damage."

"Turning to the removal of plants and flowers along one side of the Garden of Remembrance, the strip of ground in question is not maintained using a lawn mower because of the risk of damage to the grave markers. This area is cut using a strimmer."

"Whilst the main areas of grass in the cemetery were cut last Wednesday, this particular area of grass has not been strimmed yet. The Supervisor and the operatives are adamant that they have not removed any flowers or plants from this area, and this would seem to be the case, given that the strimming has not yet been undertaken."

"I do agree there is evidence that some plants have been removed, but I have no explanation as to who is responsible. I do not believe that these flowers were removed by council staff. Reverend Witts did advise me that the churchyard regulations do not permit planting at graves, or the use of gravel chippings to mark graves. He also noted that there were problems with badgers in the churchyard and wondered if animals could be causing damage to plants."

"Our Supervisor has spoken to the two operatives that were cutting the grass last Wednesday. These are the operatives that always maintain the churchyard, and they are very familiar with the areas that must be strimmed. They have been previously instructed only to strim around graves."

"From my investigation, I do not believe that the Council’s staff have removed or damaged the plant. However, I have no explanation as to what has happened to it."

And St Andrew's Church vicar, Reverend Graham Witts, told "The churchyard regulations have been in effect since 1999 and state that no flowers etc should be planted into the ground. The Church Council recognises that this is a sensitive issue, yet we cannot change matters for pastoral reasons."

"The Church Council is mindful of the problems of the churchyard and is issuing a leaflet through the local funeral directors about these matters. We shall also send copies to the families of those with loved ones in the churchyard. The brochure will clearly set out the regulations. The vicar, churchwardens and Church Council sincerely regret any upset regarding this matter."

Alex told on Monday evening: "I am very grateful to Sedgemoor District Council and the Church for their very prompt and efficient response to my concerns over this unpleasant incident."

"I find the suggestion that all the plants could have been eaten by badgers to be unlikely. Vandalism would be deeply upsetting. This Garden of Remembrance is a clearly marked piece of the churchyard where families can pay to have cremated remains interred. Headstones are not allowed owing to listed building restrictions. Therefore, the removal of tributes whether by accident or otherwise is emotionally challenging."


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