Safety testing of headstones will resume following review of 'controversial policy'

The flattening of unsafe headstones prompted one villager to remark that the graveyard "now looks as though vandals have run amok". Credit: PA

Headstone safety testing is to resume at three cemeteries in the Scottish Borders this month, following a review of the 'controversial' policy.

Headstones deemed unsafe have been laid flat in recent years amid fears the structures could topple over. But the policy has led to protests from bereaved families who claim it is desecrating historic sites.

The gravestone of James Hogg, author of 1824's Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, was one of 48 laid on the grass in Ettrick Kirkyard after failing safety tests carried out by council staff.

It move prompted one villager to remark that the graveyard "now looks as though vandals have run amok".

The concerns led to the testing programme being temporarily paused as a review of the policy was carried out.

The programme will now resume in the newer sections of:

  • Lilliesleaf Cemetery

  • Wairds Cemetery in Melrose (sections C & D)

  • Shawfield Cemetery in Selkirk (section M)

A spokesperson for Scottish Borders Council said: "28-day notices have been displayed at the entrances to these cemeteries outlining our intent to begin surveying and making them safe.

"Memorials will be checked by qualified staff and inspections undertaken with due care and respect.

"Signs will also be placed at headstones which have failed the safety inspection and have had to be made safe with contact details provided on these to allow people to get in touch with us directly should they wish."

Scottish Borders Council manages 155 cemeteries and burial grounds across the region, of which 146 fall under a programme of routine Headstone Safety Inspection.

While Government guidance states lairholders are responsible for maintenance and repair of their headstones and memorials, the council, as a burial authority has a legal obligation to ensure public safety and, as far as is reasonably practicable, that cemeteries are maintained in a safe condition.

So far, 38,742 of the 46,435 headstones it oversees were tested, with 1,856 laid flat.

The most recent programme of inspections has been informed by Government Guidance that was published in 2019 following the fatality of an eight year old boy in Glasgow in 2015 as a result of being hit by a falling headstone.

A five-year programme has been running since 2018 and has prioritised cemeteries based on criteria including footfall, number of interments and places of active worship to manage risk and to ensure the safety of the public.

The resumption will allow safety assessments to be undertaken on over 7,000 remaining headstones which have not yet been reviewed as part of the programme.

To date only 3.9% of the almost 40,000 headstones that have been tested have been laid flat.

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