Minister backs move to ban toys and lights from graves

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A CHURCH of Scotland minister has appealed to mourners not to leave "disconcerting" tributes, such as wind chimes, at gravesides.

And the Rev Graeme Longmuir said the use of solar lights made the burial ground look like the "Blackpool illuminations".

Mr Longmuir yesterday praised Aberdeenshire Council's controversial decision made in February last year to outlaw graveside mementoes in its cemeteries. Councillors approved proposals to ban completely any tributes that move or emit noise or light in the 212 burial grounds.

The council began sending letters three months ago to lair owners who were flouting the rules, giving them six weeks to remove any items that did not meet the new criteria.

Susan Bendel, whose eight-year-old son, Rhys, is buried in Inverurie cemetery, condemned the council earlier this week for ordering her to remove solar lights, a small football figurine and shrubs from his grave, or face having them taken away.

But yesterday Mr Longmuir said he had been forced to conduct burial services at the graveyard while battling against a chorus of wind chimes and whirling plastic decorations.

And he said the use of solar lighting at graves throughout the cemetery had been threatening to turn the burial ground into Inverurie's answer to the "Blackpool illuminations".

Mr Longmuir, who is in charge of St Andrew's Parish Church, said removal of the graveside tributes would allow funeral services to be conducted with the dignity they deserved and allow mourners to grieve in peace.

He said: "It has been quite a serious problem for some time. And, of course, it is not a problem confined to the cemetery here in Inverurie.

"We are dealing with an extremely sensitive issue, and I have buried quite a lot of the folk in that cemetery and know all the families.

"I understand the sentiment of these things," said the minister. "We have all lost folk that we love dearly, and we all remember them.

"It's just that if you are standing next to graves with these plastic footballers kicking their legs and windmills going round, it's a bit much.

"And there were the solar lights, which came on at night – it was quite disconcerting for a number of folk driving into the town past the cemetery and seeing these lights."

Asked if he had received complaints from grieving families about the disruption being caused to solemn burial services, he replied: "Not directly and not on the occasion.

"But I was certainly conscious of this noise going on in the background while conducting services.

"And there were occasions when I arrived at a grave and saw those things nearby, and I would walk across and lay them flat on the ground." he said. "They cause great offence."

Mr Longmuir also revealed that earlier this week he had been forced to remove temporarily ten helium balloons bearing the message "Happy Birthday" from a grave at the cemetery, close to where he was due to conduct a burial service.

A spokesman for Aberdeenshire Council said yesterday: "While (the council] understands this is a sensitive issue, it is important the ornamentation of lairs throughout Aberdeenshire is dealt with consistently."

Where possible, we have written to lair holders to request the removal or rearrangement of certain lair ornamentation, which breaches the new rules."