'Unauthorised' headstones ruin family's final wishes
- Credit: DONNA-LOUISE BISHOP
For more than a decade, Amanda Owen has made weekly visits to her parents and younger sister’s grave in north Norfolk.
At their own request, the final resting places were a sanctuary of simplicity in the graveyard of St Peter and St Paul’s Church in the village of Heydon, near Aylsham – until earlier this year.
Ms Owen, of Taverham, was left “shocked and upset” after finding two headstones had been erected without her permission on both her parents' and three-month-old baby sister’s grave.
She said: “This is against the specific wishes of my parents.
“Both my parents were quiet and unassuming people who did not want their details engraved on a stone. They wanted a small memorial where flowers could be placed.
“As next-of-kin and full-time carer to my father, who passed away a few years after my mother, I arranged and paid for both funerals.
“Myself alone, I have been attending the graves for the last 10 years, never missing a week.”
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The unusual incident came about after a stonemason was commissioned by another relative of the family.
And in another devastating blow, many of the details are also inaccurate, as Ms Owen explained.
“The details are all incorrect on both memorials, including dates and ages. My father is also referred to as 'Granddad Togo', which was the name of a relative’s dog. This is an insult.
“My heart hurts to think these headstones were placed out of spite and not in one bit out of love - knowing they knew my parents’ wishes for no headstones.
“My mother had always said losing her baby daughter was a private loss and did not want the details advertised, which for 55 years is what had happened until this horrible memorial arrived, which also has the wrong dates and name.”
Now, in a heartfelt plea, she is asking for the graves to be returned to their original “pretty tributes”, but she has been told it will cost her hundreds of pounds in legal fees to reverse the action taken.
“It’s disgusting that someone can place a stone and walk away, knowing it was not the [deceased's] wishes.
"I’ve been told that to get them removed, it will cost me a full day's hearing at court - which is £668 - plus written judgment order costs of £133 per hour.
“It appears I can’t win this because [the person] was given permission by the incumbent and it cannot be removed lawfully without the court permission.”
She thanked the church’s reverent, Andrew Whitehead, for his continued support and assistance.
"These pretty tributes were beautiful in their setting of Heydon church – as asked for by my parents prior to their passing – and these horrible headstones arriving means I have needed some much-needed support, which I am most grateful for.
“Although I don’t think we can get them removed, maybe this will help to highlight the issue to others that this could happen.”
A spokesperson for the Diocese of Norwich said: “We understand that this is a sensitive and upsetting issue.
“The local vicar acted in good faith, with the information available at the time, unaware of the complex family issues involved.
"He has since contacted the local monumental masons to discuss ways in which this sort of situation can be avoided in the future.
"Our sympathies are with the family.”
Daughter Margaret Payne and her partner Gary Pett, who commissioned the headstones, said she believed it was her father's wishes to erect the headstones.
She said: "When my mum passed away, my dad said to me that he wished we could have a headstone put up for her."
She also stated that all of the names and dates used were correct.
Mr Pett added: "We go down there. We tidy up the graves. We are the ones who put flowers on all the family graves every week and keep them clean and tidy.
"We have nothing to hide.
"That headstone was put down out of love and care. It was a thing my partner wanted to do for her mum and dad."
It is not the first time the Diocese of Norwich has landed in hot water.
In 2019, Caroline Walden, of Fakenham, won a long-running battle to have the words "dad and granddad" written on her father John's headstone at St Mary's Church in Syderstone.
She was told that church policy meant her wishes for the inscription were rejected, but the headstone was finally erected more than 18 months later.
Ruth Arlow, chancellor of the Diocese of Norwich, made the ruling in her role as a judge of the Church of England's consistory court when considering the case of the Fakenham family and overruled a previous decision by The Rev Clive Wylie.