Graves laid down as more than 1,800 deemed 'unsafe' in Newcastle cemeteries

More than 1,300 headstones in Heaton Cemetery have been laid down so far. Credit: NCJ Media

More than 1,800 memorials in Newcastle cemeteries have been deemed safety hazards – less than halfway through a major council inspection.

Newcastle City Council was subject to heavy criticism before Christmas from bereaved families who had found their loved ones’ headstones lying on the ground at Heaton Cemetery.

Civic centre officials said that hundreds of memorials at the Benton Road cemetery have had to be laid down due to concerns that they could fall over.

The scene became a source of deep sadness and anger for many relatives who came to pay their respects over the festive season, with the council accused of leaving the cemetery in an “appalling” state that “looked like mass vandalism” at a time of year when many people are visiting to lay flowers and wreaths. 

The council has now confirmed to the Local Democracy Reporting Service that 1,326 headstones in Heaton have been laid down so far and that safety inspections there are due to continue.

That is in addition to 485 at Jesmond Old Cemetery and the West Road Cemetery during completed inspections last year, making a total of 1,811.

Families elsewhere in the city are now being told to expect similar scenes elsewhere – with safety checks at a further seven graveyards yet to begin.

The remaining sites to be inspected are All Saints Cemetery in Jesmond, Hollywood Cemetery in Gosforth, St John’s Cemetery in Elswick, Lemington Cemetery, North Gosforth Cemetery, St Andrew’s Cemetery in Jesmond, and St Nicholas Cemetery in Fenham.

A council spokesperson said: “We recognise how important memorials are to families so they can pay their respects and remember their loved ones. Like all councils across the country, we are required by law to ensure our cemeteries are safe places for people to visit and for our staff to work in.

“In June, our highly trained staff started a programme of work to identify the memorials in our 10 cemeteries which do not meet safety standards. We want to reassure residents that this work is done with the greatest respect and sensitivity and we never want to upset or cause any distress to families.

“To date, safety inspections have been completed at Jesmond Old and West Road cemeteries, which resulted in 485 memorials being made safe which in most cases means they are carefully laid flat on the ground after they were found to pose a safety risk.

“Memorials are not pushed over. They are carefully laid down with the inscription facing up to protect the stone from being damaged and any trinkets that have been placed on the grave.

“Following the inspection, we make every effort to contact the grave owner provided we have their details and a small sign is placed at the headstone asking them to get in touch with us. The safety inspections are set to resume at Heaton Cemetery early this year and will be carried out at a further seven cemeteries, after which the closed churchyards will be inspected.”

The authority has said that the safety check involves a visual and hand push test of headstones over 2ft tall to check their stability. Any that are found to be unsafe may then be cordoned off, have temporary supports installed, or be laid flat on the grave.

The council added: “The inspections are necessary because safety standards have evolved over the years, meaning some memorials may not meet these requirements. Newcastle are not alone in carrying out this work and such inspections will be conducted at cemeteries across the country, at which many headstones will be laid down. 

“It is incredibly important that we ensure all memorials are stable and secure and our cemeteries continue to be safe places for people to visit. Our staff are always on hand to provide support and guidance to families if they need to get their memorials repaired.

“We do not charge any fees for the repairs. All we require is an application to fix the memorial which must be submitted by a stone mason who is registered to work in our cemeteries.

“The stone mason will require a fee to carry out the work, however, we do not financially benefit from this work in any way, as has been suggested in some reporting on the matter.

“Residents can contact the Council’s Bereavement Services by calling 0191 211 6941 or emailing”

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