New probe launched into scandal of Edinburgh's burned memorial benches

A new investigation is under way after ‘further evidence has come to light’ relating to the burning of 70 memorial benches by workmen from Edinburgh City Council.

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In January 2020, it was revealed that council workers had burned damaged memorial benches, intended to commemorate lost loved-ones, after being removed from West Princes Street Gardens

The Edinburgh Evening News, which first reported the burning, revealed that some of the benches memorialised Victoria Cross holders.

Pictures provided to the Evening News which show the benches on fire (Photo: Contributed)Pictures provided to the Evening News which show the benches on fire (Photo: Contributed)
Pictures provided to the Evening News which show the benches on fire (Photo: Contributed)
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The benches sat at the council’s Inch Depot for more than a year before being set alight.

At the time, council chiefs said that ‘the person behind the decision must be held accountable’.

However, in response to questioning by Conservative group leader Iain Whyte, council bosses have now revealed that no one was disciplined, due to the suspected member of staff having already left the employment of the council, and now a new investigation is now underway due to the emergence of new information.

In response to a written question by councillor Whyte, councillor Karen Doran, the council’s transport and environment vice convener, wrote back: “The investigation referred to by the council leader was concluded.

“This found that the person that was allegedly responsible for the burning of the benches is no longer employed by the council.

“However, further evidence has come to light in recent weeks which has caused this finding to be questioned and a new investigation is underway.”

In response, councillor Whyte said: “Given the very robust statement from the council in January 2020 it is astonishing that 19 months on it took a question from me to discover that they concluded an investigation without holding anyone to account.

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“Unsurprisingly, the person who had left was blamed. That seems now to have been found to be only part of the story and they are reinvestigating. How long will this all take?

“It also seems the council process can do nothing when someone leaves.

“Maybe on this occasion they need to ask the police whether burning donated memorial benches was criminal damage. They could then pass on all the information the council has.

“In the meantime maybe councillor Doran needs to consider whether she could yet assure a family buying a bench that their relatives memorial was safe with the council. The lack of a conclusion seems to suggest otherwise.”

Historically, the council maintained benches in perpetuity but decided to end the practice due to cost, and in 2018, a motion was passed to shorten this period to 20 years.

Wooden benches cost families £3,925, while a metal bench cost £1,965 with a 20-year maintenance warranty included.

If a seat is deemed to be damaged beyond repair, the commemorative plaque is removed and stored until it can be returned to the donor, if they wish.

The donor is contacted and offered the opportunity to purchase a new metal or wooden bench, if the original was in either Princes Street Gardens, Saughton Park or the City Chambers Quadrangle.

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In the event of the council being unable to contact a donor, the seat is removed and stored for 12 months.

If the donor does not respond within a year then the bench is decommissioned with salvageable parts recycled.

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