A GRAVEYARD where 21 war heroes are buried has been left in a ‘shameful’ state by a council.

Budget cuts and bad weather have been blamed for the cemetery at St James’ Church, Lower Darwen, being left to ‘rack and ruin’.

The graveyard, which is around the size of a football pitch, is overgrown, with headstones lying on the ground.

The Stopes Brow site contains hundreds of graves, including those of servicemen who died during the First and Second World Wars.

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council is responsible for the upkeep of the graveyard but said the work it could carryout was limited because of budget cuts.

Bob Wood, chairman of the Darwen branch of the Royal British Legion, said: “It is disgraceful and shameful that it has been allowed to get in such a state.

“A graveyard, especially when it has got war heroes, deserves a lot of respect and it should be looked after properly.

“It is really upsetting for the memories of those people.”

The Rev Timothy Horobin, of St James’, said: “It is such a shame.

“The maintenance of the graveyard is massive as it is very, very old, but there is no funding to put somebody in to do it up.

“The council came and pushed the headstones down for health and safety reasons which made a real mess and made it almost impossible to keep them tidy.”

Mr Horobin said ideally a groundsman would be employed to take care of the graves.

He said: “The grass has just grown so fast this year, it has been horrific.

“We really need funding to keep everything tidy.”

Following complaints about the state of the site a team of volunteers carried out a clean-up of the grounds earlier this month.

But it still remains very badly overgrown.

But Coun Faryad Hussain, executive member for environment at Blackburn with Darwen Council, said budget cuts meant the authority was forced to prioritise where funds were spent.

He said: “Residents raised the issue of the state of St James’ churchyard at a ward solution meeting.

“As a result of the meeting, residents got together with Council equipment from the Your Call scheme to clean-up the area.

“I think they have made an excellent start.

“Because of budget cuts, we are only limited in what we can do.

“We are in tough times and we can’t maintain the same level of services people are used to because of the reduction in government funding so we all need to work together to make Blackburn with Darwen a better place.

“The residents are looking at forming a friends group and the council will continue to support them.

“I want to take this opportunity to praise the residents who are helping to improve St James’.”

Matt Morris, from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said: “We make regular inspections, first and foremost to make sure the commemoration befits the sacrifice and secondly to look at the state of the churchyard.

“I will raise the issue that St James’ is in an unacceptable state and see whether we may wish to take the matter up with the local authority.”