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Hertford memorials laid flat by town council

Gravestones in Hertford Cemetery have been laid flat and marked with safety notices, prompting anger from families of the deceased.

Some had received letters warning them that their relative's grave had failed a stability test, while others only discovered so upon visiting the North Road cemetery.

All graves had been tested with a method of applying pressure by hand. A machine was used on borderline cases to test whether the stone could hold the weight of a small child. The council has so far spent £2,000 on employing an external contractor to carry out the testing.

According to guidelines, a dangerous memorial is defined as one that will move and continue to fall to the ground with the exertion of the force of 350 Newtons (circa 35kg) or less.

They also stress that when managing memorial safety, it is essential that communication with the community is of the highest possible standard including the notification of all aspects of the inspection and making safe work.

Upon finding that his grandparents' memorial had been laid down, town councillor Peter Ruffles said: "I was a bit unhappy about the fact that it had been laid flat on the ground. Even though I had gone prepared and not in a critical mod, it was a bit of a shock that it had been dismantled. It was more than I had anticipated."

The town council defended its actions, stating it had tried to carry out the work as "sensitively as possible".

Town clerk Nina Villa said: "Hertford Town Council has responsibility under health and safety law to ensure the safety of all users of the cemetery. In the past six years there have been six deaths nationally caused by unstable memorials and, while we recognise the risk is minimal, we have a duty to take all appropriate steps to ensure that we safeguard the public.

"The testing has been carried out as sensitively as possible, with the vast majority of memorials where a problem has been identified being provided with temporary support, allowing the family time to contact their stonemason."

The council has established a small hardship fund for those who find it difficult to pay for the repairs.

As reported in The Mercury, March 20, 2009.

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