Sussex

Shock after digger 'parked' on Lancing and Sompting Cemetery grave

Lancing and Sompting Cemetery - generic
Image caption The incident happened at Lancing and Sompting Cemetery

A elderly woman has spoken of her shock at visiting her son's grave to find a digger parked on top of it and the headstone removed.

Margaret and Raymond Hunt had gone to the grave of their son Philip, who died 33 years ago in a motorbike accident in France.

The couple, in their 80s, have tended to his grave at Lancing and Sompting Cemetery every week since his burial.

Adur and Worthing Councils have apologised for removing the headstone.

Mrs Hunt said on 26 June, she and her husband had parked at the cemetery's gates and walked towards the grave.

"I said to my husband 'What on earth is that JCB doing over there', not dreaming what we would find when we got there," she said.

"It wasn't until you got on the hill, up to the grave that you could see, it was completely parked over Philip's grave, the headstone had been moved.

"We also have my in-laws and my brother-in-law buried in the next grave, and Philip's headstone was round the back of my in-laws headstones."

'So disrespectful'

She said her reaction was "absolute shock".

"I didn't know what to do, what to say, and I said to the chappie that was driving 'What have you done to Philip's grave?

"And he just looked at me - not a word, not a sound.

"I was just shaking. I just couldn't believe that they could be so disrespectful."

The headstone has now been reinstated.

In a joint statement, the councils said: "On Tuesday 26 June a grave due to be excavated for an interment was located behind graves already used, preventing direct access to the grave to be machine excavated.

"We had a very short time frame and, the nature of the soil at Lancing and Sompting (Chalk), meant hand digging the grave would have taken longer than the time available to prepare the grave to achieve the depth required.

"An assessment was made by the staff which always includes the proximity of adjacent graves and structures including the stability of headstones. The staff was aware that the grave in front of the one to be excavated had a low headstone which was not physically attached.

"The staff carefully removed the headstone and placed it nearby to allow the digger to straddle the grave to give access to excavate the grave."

The spokesman said staff at the cemetery had apologised to the couple and offered to have the headstone reattached by a stonemason.

The grave, plants and headstone were not damaged, the spokesman added.

"At no time did our staff run vehicles over the grave, the vehicle straddled the grave with the vehicle in the inter grave spaces," he said.

"Obviously this is a very unique situation and is not something that happens in the normal course of events, the Cemeteries are precious to the families who have loved ones interred and we take very great care to ensure that we respect graves.

"In the light of this situation however, we will review our procedures to ensure that it is not repeated."

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