HUNDREDS of grieving families will be reimbursed after being incorrectly billed for work on their loved ones’ graves.
Blackburn with Darwen Council has apologised to relatives who were forced to make payouts after gravestones failed controversial topple tests.
The decision to reimburse people, set to cost the authority around £50,000, was made by officers, who accepted that topple-testing work carried out by contractors fell short of the required standard.
They also said a number of memorials which were designated failures may have been incorrectly assessed and have made a public apology.
Topple-testing was introduced nationally after a number of people were killed by falling gravestones.
Mari Whalley, co-ordinator of the Pleasington Cemetery Action Group, said around 500 people, who had spent on average between £75 and £100 on enforced repairs, had been sent letters inviting them to make a claim.
She said: “I have challenged the council for the last six years over this case and as a result they have acknowledged that one or two things were done wrong.
“As a gesture of goodwill they are going to reimburse those affected and within the next 12 months, repair the headstones that still need attention.
“There is also going to be a public apology.
“I am more than happy at the outcome and can only thank the officers of the council who worked with us.
“In a way it has taken too long to get here, but we have come to an agreement.”
Under the controversial topple testing procedure, ordered by the government amid fears of dangerously unstable gravestones, pressure of 35kg is applied to each stone, the force exerted by a person to pull themselves up from kneeling at the graveside.
If they move, the stones are branded ‘unsafe’ and covered with stickers and tape and attached to stakes.
Blackburn with Darwen Council had decided not to pay for repairs to headstones, leaving hundreds of families with costly bills.
But following the review it is now asking people affected to make a claim.
Sayyed Osman, director of environment, housing and neighbourhoods, said: “The council regrets the events which have unfolded, but is fully determined to rectify the issues as soon as possible.
“The general public can rest assured that the next phase of memorial testing will be carried out to the required standard.
“The Pleasington Cemetery Action Group, led by joint co-ordinators Mari Whalley and Mike Croasdale, brought this issue to the attention of the council, who gratefully acknowledge Mrs Whalley’s persistent approach to resolving this issue.
“The council wishes to apologise for the distress that this will inevitably have caused the families involved.
“As a gesture of goodwill the council wishes to reimburse all the grave owners who funded the repairs to their memorials in accordance with their instructions.
“If you or your family instructed a registered memorial mason to carry out this work, then please contact the cemetery office on0845 6066612 who will be happy to assist.
“Once an application has been verified then the family will be reimbursed.”
The decision will be rubber stamped at the council’s executive board meeting on January 17.