Headstones have been taken down from several graves in Little Waldingfield due to serious health and safety fears – but one resident says he is unhappy with how the matter was handled.
A number of graves at the Church of St Lawrence have been taped off, after checks by the parish council and parochial church council (PCC) found 10 headstones at risk of toppling, posing “a significant danger to life and limb”.
Seven headstones deemed to be particularly vulnerable were laid down.
The PCC is working to contact relatives of those with affected graves, and several have been visited personally by the Rev Judith Sweetman, priest in charge.
The issue of headstone safety has arisen following a recent inquiry into the death of an eight-year-old boy in Glasgow after a headstone fell on him, with his parents saying safety checks could have prevented it.
Rev Sweetman said: “On behalf of the PCC, I want to apologise for any distress caused to relatives of those whose graves had to be taped off, or have stones laid flat.
“Every church has a difficult balance to achieve, between respecting those who have died and the needs of relatives, and meeting their duty to maintain their churchyard in a safe state.”
Andy Sheppard, chairman of Little Waldingfield Parish Council, added: “Myself and Rev Judith are both acutely aware of the sensitivities involved with graves, which is completely understandable.
“Sadly, however, I don’t think people see the real risk to people, and, in particular, to children. At the point of assessing a headstone is at risk, it would be simply unacceptable to do nothing – would you wish to have the life of a child on your conscience?”
Cllr Sheppard noted many did not realise descendants have a legal obligation to maintain the graves of their ancestors, not the church.
He also made assurances the vast majority of headstones in the yard were safe.
Bernard Griggs, who has a relative buried at one of the affected graves, said he thought the churchyard had been vandalised before he found out why parts of the site were taped off.
“They have gone about it the wrong way,” said Mr Griggs. “They should have informed people beforehand.
“All the relatives I have spoken to were distressed at how it was done. The Reverend came to see me and she was apologetic. I understand the reasons, but they’ve got ahold of people now and surely that could have been done in the first place.”