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Council issues kirkyards apology

OIC have issued an apology following concerns about kirkyard management.

Orkney Islands Council has made an official apology following public concern about the way the county’s kirkyards are being managed.

Distraught families and dismayed public officials have spoken out in recent weeks, after a scheme to improve the safety of cemeteries triggered reports that headstones were being laid flat without relatives being notified.

Last week, a council insider told The Orcadian that — in failing to contact families — the council was disregarding government guidelines on cemetery maintenance.

“It says it’s good practice to inform the families and give them an opportunity to repair the memorial, and that’s just not being done at all,” the inside source said.

The Orcadian also heard from Stewart Spence, whose father’s headstone had been laid down in the Sandwick kirkyard with no notification from the council. This was despite the fact that the name and address of the person they needed to contact — his mother Edna — was engraved on the memorial.

“Vandals couldn’t have done a better job,” he said.

Following this wave of public concern, OIC convener Harvey Johnston and chief executive Alistair Buchan have now released a statement apologising for the concern and upset that this project has caused.

“Following a tragic accident involving a young child at a Glasgow cemetery, the Scottish Government asked councils to carry out detailed inspections in the interests of public safety,” they said.

“We therefore engaged in the kirkyard safety programme for all the right reasons, but recognise that the process we have followed needs to be improved. It was never envisaged that the resulting work would leave kirkyards in the condition they are in. We are sorry about the concern and upset this has led to.

“As a caring organisation, responsive to public concern, we will restore kirkyards to the condition people would expect. We will also consider how best to contact and discuss the remedial work required with those concerned. People’s safety is an important concern for us and we will continue to carry out headstone inspections. As at Warebeth (the cemetery at Stromness), we will use blue pegs to mark stones identified as being unsafe and highlight these to local community representatives.

“These stones will not be touched until we publicise the inspection results and give relatives the time they need to discuss with us any work they might wish to carry out themselves.”

The statement also confirmed that further updates from the council will be provided further updates over the weeks ahead.