Questions of memorial safety continue as Scarborough topples stones

Press headlines

Stone memorials have once again been making the news because a council has laid some flat. This time it is Scarborough Council in North Yorkshire that is being criticised by the people whose memorials have been toppled. And, of course, the Press is indignant.

The council said beforehand that a ‘qualified contractor’ would carry out the inspection of the memorials, although in fact in the one cemetery so far tested the council decided to carry out the inspections using its own staff. It says it intends to use a contractor for its other two cemeteries. The three cemeteries involved are Dean Road & Manor Road and Woodlands cemeteries in Scarborough, and Larpool cemetery in Whitby. 

Press reports say ‘hundreds’ of headstone have been toppled. One even said “50,000 headstones purged” and “thousands removed”, which the Council says is "nonsense". It told Natural Stone Specialist that 1,386 memorial stones have been inspected to date and only 110 of them have been laid down... carefully.

However, one picture used by the national press did show a tablet with the top corners broken off.

A spokesperson for the Council said: "The sections we have tested so far are older parts of the cemetery and contain memorials installed before BS 8415 came into effect. The reason we are doing the checks is to identify which stones do not meet the standard and those which are unsafe, so that is why we are laying those stones down. 

"If, as our inspection programme continues, we find recent memorials that fail to meet the standard, where the mason has not installed correctly, we will advise the grave owner that the mason will be obligated to make the necessary repairs free of charge."

In a statement, the Council adds: "No headstones have been damaged by our staff and contractors. They are not pushed over but if they pose an immediate safety risk they may be carefully laid down and positioned on the grave face up so that the inscription can still be read.

"The small signs attached to the headstones advise people to contact us if they have any queries. We do our very best to place the signs without obscuring the memorial text.

"We do not charge any fees for repair. Stonemason fees may vary and any recent stones (within 10 years) should still be under warranty from the stonemason and be made safe free of charge.

"Communications about the work were carried out from early June to give people plenty of notice. This included putting up signs throughout the cemeteries, which are still in place, an article in the June edition of our digital newsletter, Residents’ News, which goes to around 40,000 subscribers, a news release to print, online and broadcast media and information booklets at local stonemasons. We added a digital version of the booklet to our website and put information on our social media channels."

The owners of the memorials and the Press are quick to blame the council for toppling the stones, but if they had the potential to cause harm by falling on visitors to the cemeteries or staff working there, compromising the safety of the cemeteries and leaving the council open to claims for compensation for injuries, what option was there?

The fact that memorials have been laid down all over the country because they were not installed using adequate dowels, ground anchors and foundations is a concern, and Scarborough once again demonstrates the importance of fixing in accordance with BS 8415 as updated in 2018. 

Before the inspection, Councillor Tony Randerson, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, said: "We recognise how important and treasured memorial stones are to the families and friends of those they commemorate. Many of the very old and ornate memorials are also of historic significance to the borough.

"At the same time, we have a legal duty to ensure our cemeteries are safe places for people to visit and work, which is why we need to carry out these inspections and take action to make unstable memorials safe.

"Our contractors will be respectful of the environment they are working in and inspections will never be conducted when burials or grave side services are taking place nearby."