Gravestones laid flat in the Capital

MORE than 8000 headstones in Edinburgh cemeteries have been laid flat by council workers following a major safety programme.

Officials today revealed the scale of the problem as they near the end of a controversial two-and-a-half year inspection scheme.

And they warned an extra 2200 memorials could face a similar fate following a re-inspection.

Nearly 60,000 memorials have been checked by the council and 8104 have been toppled for safety reasons.

Council chiefs say 20 per cent will need to be checked again over the next 12 months, many of which will end up being laid flat.

The council, which spent 55,000 on the safety work last year alone, has now almost completed work to make the dangerous gravestones safe.

Of the city’s 39 cemeteries under council control, only The Grange has not yet been fully inspected. The highest number of toppled headstones can be found in Warriston, Rosebank and Liberton cemeteries, as well as Morningside Cemetery where one in three headstones was found to be unsafe.

When the memorials are revisited next year, the authority will be repeating public consultation exercises introduced in the wake of widespread controversy over the "insensitive" handling of the checks.

Critics claimed the council had not tried to contact relatives of the deceased before starting the programme and workers were accused of "shoulder-barging" gravestones to push them over.

The practice was originally launched amid fears a gravestone could topple over and kill a child, following incidents elsewhere in the UK.

Councillor Bob Cairns, environmental services spokesman, said today: "A substantial number of unsafe memorials have had to be laid flat in the interests of safety. These initial inspections are part of a programme to ensure high standards of health and safety in the city’s graveyards.

"We have made every effort to contact family members through local meetings, advertising and extensive mailshots."

When the programme began in September 2002, scores of residents complained about the unsightly appearance of Edinburgh graveyards.

But environmental services chief Mike Drewry insisted every care is taken to only knock down dangerous memorials, which are then laid flat with the inscription showing.

In a report to the executive of the city council, he said: "Memorials which have been tested are placed into three categories - require no further inspection for five years, require to be inspected again after 12 months, [or] are so dangerously unstable that they require to be made safe immediately, by laying them flat.

"Wherever possible, we will endeavour to ensure that all memorials no longer standing will be left correctly positioned with the inscription uppermost."

Just over 2000 headstones have been laid flat in Warriston, while 1617 and 1316 memorials have been toppled in Morningside and Rosebank respectively.

In Liberton, 1280 gravestones are now on the ground. In contrast, a number of cemeteries have received the all-clear from inspection teams, including Restalrig, South Leith and Mortonhall.

Mr Drewry also revealed that the city is facing an unprecedented crisis over the dwindling number of grave spaces.

The last development undertaken by the council was Mortonhall Cemetery in 1960, which was intended to serve the community for 50 years. But there are only around 200 spaces left and it is expected to be full by next year at the latest.

With an average of 600 burials and 230 new graves being used each year, only ten of Edinburgh’s cemeteries now have any space left. Mr Drewry said: "Whilst the search for a suitable site for a new cemetery for the city for the next 50 years continues, the need to find a replacement for Mortonhall becomes ever more urgent."