Grave concerns: Health and safety checks find almost 500 memorials in Norwich at risk of toppling over

Earlham Cemetery where the council has been inspecting headstones as part of a survey. Photo: Steve Adams Earlham Cemetery where the council has been inspecting headstones as part of a survey. Photo: Steve Adams

Monday, June 16, 2014
9:59 AM

Almost 500 memorials in Norwich’s cemeteries have been found to be at risk of toppling over, with council officers having to lay down nearly a hundred of them to protect the public.

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Norwich City Council has been testing some 40,000 gravestones over the past two years, amid health and safety fears.

The main testing involved staff inspecting the memorials, followed by a hand-test to establish if the stones were in danger of falling over.

But they also used topple-testing equipment, where a force of 25kg was put up against the stone to deem just how unstable the memorials were.

In April 2012, the council advertised for two vacancies - paid up to £25,000 a year - to inspect graves.

And the council has revealed that just over 400 memorials have had to be staked in place to keep them stable, while just under a hundred have been laid down because they were deemed to be too dangerous to keep standing.

A council officer said the ones which had been laid down were usually crosses and other memorials with multiple jointed parts, which could not be made safe with stakes.

A spokeswoman for Norwich City Council said; “Those that have been laid down will stay there for now, though there is a due process for removing them should we ever choose to or need to. This involves publishing notices on-site and in the press.

“It is the responsibility of the grave owner to organise, and pay for, necessary remedial works on any memorials that fail an inspection.”

While the work on the memorials has been going on, the council has also been carrying out a thorough review of what burial space was available in Earlham Cemetery, which dates back to 1855, as they looked to figure out where the city would bury its dead in the future.

They came up with plans which would see older sections of the cemetery used for what are known as natural burials – where human remains are buried in biodegradable coffins or containers in an area which creates or preserves a habitat for wildlife.

And council officers embarked on a survey to figure out just how many so-called “common graves”, which are graves which have not been purchased, are in the cemetery.

They wanted to establish how much space there was in those common graves - which contain up to four spaces for burials - which the council, as burial authority, could sell so other people’s remains can be placed in them.

The city council spokeswoman said: “Since the programme got underway, officers dedicated to this programme have discovered an increasing number of available burial plots.

“In terms of common grave spaces, our current stats show we have more than 40,000 available spaces.

“We can’t be overly prescriptive about precisely how long this will last. But, based on current burial rates and trends, this number would be sufficient burial space for many generations to come in Norwich.”

Paul Kendrick, previously the city council’s cabinet member with responsibility for cemeteries, said: “Council officers have worked hard to adopt a professional yet sensitive approach due to the nature of the work involved.

“As the project progresses, that hard work is really paying off and the latest figures show we have enough space for generations of Norwich residents who would like their final resting place to be Earlham Cemetery.”

• Have you had to pay for a memorial to be made safe? Tell us your story by emailing dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk

17 comments

  • All comes down (no pun intended) to a duty of care in law. If the hazard of falling gravestones was identified or indeed if someone had been previously injured or worse then the land owner would have a duty to reduce the chances of harm. Very simple in law and a very simple way to get prosecuted and of course sued. The old saying where there is blame there is a claim etc. The council would have to be seen to do something and I guess that's what this is all about. What gets my goat is if some a@se was vandalising a grave and they got injured by it, they could, in all likelihood bring a claim against the council under a duty of care guise., failure to risk assess, failure to warn of the dangers etc. Crazy really.

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    Urbancommander

    Friday, June 20, 2014

  • Arfur, can you tell us more about these children killed by falling grave stones because I cannot find any evidence. and having worked as a gravedigger below these leaning stones I would be interested to know more.

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    gerry mitson

    Tuesday, June 17, 2014

  • Sadly there have been deaths in this country from falling gravestones. They have nearly all been small children. It does not reflect well on those of you complaining about the Council taking action to protect people. I suspect most of you would be the first to moan if the Council took no action and another small child was killed.

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    arfur

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • as some one who regularly tends two graves at the Cemetery, I can see where the Council are coming from. Some of the headstones that are tilting over are over 100 years old, and possibly have no one living who is attending, which is probably why they are in this state. It is sad, but surely the Council are merely advising people of the situation, H&S is an issue and one we have to be careful of.

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    Derek McDonald

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • Never ceases to amaze me how quick the one-dimensional anti-council trolls are to complain, no matter what the council does. It doesn't occur to any of them that one reason no-one has yet been injured might be due to such vigilance by the council. And if someone were to be injured, they would instantly put finger to keyboard to complain that the council hadn't done or spent enough on public safety.

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    Only Me

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • Perhaps the "elusive" council spokeswoman could tell us under which H & S law requires them to investigate headstones and where then test is mentioned ?.

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    "V"

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • You couldn't make it up! The truth is of course that nobody has been hurt by falling gravestones,and this is yet another way councils waste taxpayers money,no change there then!

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    Harry Rabinowitz

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • Rather than blame the councils and insurance companies, you'd be better looking to the solicitors and ambulance chasers who actively encourage people to sue for the slightest thing. It's the "compensation culture" that has the councils and insurance companies running scared, because they can't afford the large payments that are demanded when someone stubs their toe because they couldn't be bothered to look where they were going. Look at that policewoman who wanted to sue a garage owner because she tripped over a kerb.

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    So_Many_Haters!

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • Insurance Companies want all risks minimised to maximise their profits.

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    blackcab

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • Pathetic. 'elf'nsafety gone mad.

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    Disgusted of Norwich South

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • So rather than apply some common sense the council choose to apply a 25KG wieght instead, we now pay £50,000 to have two people to wander around looking for faults. It might be cheaper to spend that £50,000 to make safe the worst of these, it can't cost that much and the £50,000 is an annual sum so the money could make the memorials safe for years to come. this would make the council look like they care and are doing something useful with our money, apply common sense not stupidity.

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    parkeg1

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • Have these fools any idea how many descendents and thus potential grave owners someone who died in 1870 might have? The original plot purchasers paid for the plot and for a memorial to be erected. If the cemetery owners have allowed trees to grow to topple the stones they should be liable to have them stood up properly. Unfortunately the monumental masons who failed to create a stable base will likely be out of business by now

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    Daisy Roots

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • This was just an idiotic job creation scheme-I remember the jobs being advertised. If big kids were at home being supervised there would be no danger because they would not be messing around near head stones making the problem worse,if little kids were properly supervised when walking there would be no problem there either so this leaves adults who should be more than capable of avoiding a static headstone which has been on the huh for donkeys years. This is as bad as those manic parochial councils which removed or flattened headstones so they could make churchyard grass easy to cut. I feel sorry for the poor old dears who scraped a fortune together years ago to pay for a headstone only to find idiot councils let trees grow amongst graves to uproot headstones and the monumental masons did a shoddy job. Now the councils safety elves are the last straw. I know that people come from all over the world to see their Norfolk ancestors graves, they check burial records etc only to find the memorials broken or lost because of damage during being laid down.

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    Daisy Roots

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • Yes....let's see the statistics on which this H&S panic is based...................Somehow, I don't think we will...

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    marty r

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • No doubt 'andy' and 'gerry mitson' would be among the first in the queue to berate the Council if a young child was killed or seriously injured by a headstone that had not been checked.

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    arfur

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • All over the country councils have committed vandalism by flattening grave stones which have stood at an angle for hundreds of years.

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    gerry mitson

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • It would help to make this article more complete if the Council provided statistics of how many injuries there have been over the last ten years. Also the total amount of money pa the Council is spending on this process. Is the Council also applying the 25Kg test to Council OWNED items such as seats, rubbish bins, signs, etc?

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    andy

    Monday, June 16, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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