Warning over gravestone design

MODERN gravestones have a design weakness that can make them dangerous, an Evening Star investigation can reveal today.A cemetery manager for Ipswich Borough Council told the Star that due to fashions concerning the way gravestones are made, many are falling below safety standards within a couple of years of being placed in the ground.

MODERN gravestones have a design weakness that can make them dangerous, an Evening Star investigation can reveal today.

A cemetery manager for Ipswich Borough Council told the Star that due to fashions concerning the way gravestones are made, many are falling below safety standards within a couple of years of being placed in the ground.

The faults will now mean relatives have to pay out to repair them but could also lead to serious accidents if they are not repaired soon.

The problem came to light after Health and Safety Executives wrote to those in charge of cemeteries to demand testing be carried out.

So far faults have been found on 189 out of 767 graves tested in Ipswich cemetery. There are 80,000 to check in total.

Mike Grimwood, cemetery and crematorium service manager for the council, said: "The fashion changed about 40 to 50 years ago when people started wanting platforms for headstones to sit on instead of just a long piece of stone half buried into the ground.

Most Read

"Now they have a foundation stone which should be buried to ground level, a base stone which sits on that and the headstone which sits on that. This means there are lots of joints that could become loose and that it is majority of the problems we are dealing with in the Ipswich Cemetery.

"The foundation stone sometimes becomes uncovered when regular gardening work is carried out and by extreme weather conditions.

"This can sometimes add to the weakening of the joints but if it is just a ground issue that has caused the problem we will pay to have it fixed ourselves."

The checks could take up to five years to be carried out and a second set of tests will have to be carried out straight afterwards.

Several people have complained that the council should pay for the repairs themselves.

Pensioner Margaret Hazell, of Bramford Road, Ipswich, has only had her husband's gravestone in place for four years.

She said: "It has been awfully upsetting to see all the tape around it because it is a beautiful stone.

"I know repairs have got to be done but I don't see why I should have to pay for it. The stone cost a fortune in the first place and I don't see why I should have to pay out any more."

Mrs Hazell was given a quote by the council for up to £200 to have the repairs carried out.

Mervyn Reeve, of Bramford Lane, Ipswich, was also distraught to receive the letter about his wife's grave.

He refused to pay the money to have the headstone repaired but was told if he did not carry out the work the council will fill in the grave so flower pots built into the headstone will be inaccessible and part of the inscription will be covered.

Two members of staff have been employed to carry out tests but the council insists it is still cheaper to ask people to pay for the repairs themselves than to get the new employees to carry out the work.

Mr Grimwood said: "We are not making any money from the work in fact it is costing us money to carry out the checks. We are simply doing the checks to ensure safety standards are met.

"All I can say is what would they rather receive, a letter that states repair work needs to be carried out or one that states the headstone has caused a serious accident?"

The National Association of Memorial Masons are trying to encourage stonemasons to move to a new system called the ground anchor system which means metal poles are placed through all three parts of the gravestone holding them tightly together.

Keith Rackman, director of Wrights stonemasons, Cemetery Road, Ipswich, said: "Although the association has no authority to enforce stonemasons use this system I am confident that companies will start to do so.

"The straight forward stone which is buried into the ground is still the safest option and should be available from stonemasons."

Mr Rackman said that the company would make free repairs to any gravestone under 10 years old that had originally been bought from them if they had not passed the safety tests.

He also said he would estimate the cost of repairs to joints in gravestones at around £50 and people should question a quote if it was higher than this.

He added that anyone who wanted the ground anchor system put into existing gravestones to repair them should expect to pay around £70.

The Co-operative Wholesale Society stonemasons, on Suffolk Road, Ipswich, said it will offer free repairs on all graves up to two years old.

F Masters, in Quayside, Woodbridge, said they will deal with each case separately.

nDo you think the council has treated the graveowners fairly? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter