900 headstones “unsafe” Glasgow cemetery death inquiry told

Ciaran Williamson died when a headstone fell on him last year. Picture: Contributed
Ciaran Williamson died when a headstone fell on him last year. Picture: Contributed
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A fatal accident inquiry into the death of a boy at a Glasgow cemetery has heard that as many as 900 headstones were deemed unsafe days after the tragedy.

Ciaran Williamson, eight, was ­playing with friends in Craigton Cemetery when a headstone fell on him on 26 May last year.

Received call on July 20 informed headstone had fallen on to a 14-year-old boy. Govan police mentioned lock had to be cut open by the fire service

Council report

David MacColl, Glasgow City Council’s assistant bereavement services manager, told the inquiry that, in the days after Ciaran’s death, between 500 and 900 headstones were laid flat over concerns that they were not safe.

It also emerged that another boy was injured by a headstone in the same cemetery in 2010. Mr MacColl was giving evidence at the inquiry, which is taking place at Glasgow Sheriff Court and will try to establish if there were any reasonable precautions that could have prevented the tragedy.

Mr MacColl told the inquiry that he joined the council in 2013 and raised concerns over the lack of regular checks of memorials in the city.

The witness said he was told that “what we carry out at the present time was proportionate to the resources available”.

Mr MacColl was asked by procurator fiscal depute Gail Adair about the response by council staff after Ciaran’s death.

He said that, once the area had been made safe, they “secured the site” and “attempted to make all memorials they felt were unsafe, safe”.

Mr MacColl said workers laid flat the memorials that were deemed unsafe.

When asked how many were judged to be unsafe, he replied: “Between 500 and 900.”

Asked if that was a realistic number, he said that Craigton Cemetery had been subject of a “significant amount of ­vandalism”.

He also told the inquiry that he was aware of at least one complaint about a hole in the cemetery wall – which was used by Ciaran and his friends as an entry point – after a ­burial in 2014.

However, Mark Gibson of Digby Brown, who was representing Ciaran’s mother, Stephanie Griffin, told the inquiry that “records show this wall as being vandalised in October 2013”.

Mr MacColl said he had no knowledge of the report.

While cross-examining Mr MacColl, Mr Gibson also provided details from a council report form which described an incident said to have taken place in July 2010 at Craigton Cemetery.

Mr Gibson read: “Received call on 20 July informed headstone had fallen on to a 14-year-old boy.

“Govan police mentioned lock had to be cut open by the fire service.”

Mr MacColl said he could not comment on anything as he was not there at the time.

Mr Gibson asked if the report “would suggest the council were aware of falling memorial stones in Craigton”, but the witness said he could not comment.

The inquiry heard that ­council workers who inspect gravestones adhere to Ministry of Justice guidance.

Mr MacColl said that if one is inspected and found to be unsafe, it is made safe according to protocol or is recorded as safe and inspected again at a later date.

The court heard the gravestone that killed Ciaran was not inspected prior to his death. It also heard that the practice at the time was only to inspect five headstones on each side of where a burial is due to take place.

Mr MacColl told the court that the tree beside the gravestone that killed Ciaran had now been removed.

Asked why, the witness said “because it was at that locus”.

The inquiry before Sheriff Linda Ruxton continues.