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Independant on Sunday article "Relatives furious at
'state-sponsored' grave desecration"

Bill Callaghan, HSC Chair, responds - 19 November 2006

The Editor
The Independent on Sunday
Independent House
191 Marsh Wall
London E14 9RS

24 November 2006

I would like to take this opportunity to clarify the "guidelines" that the Health and Safety Executive has given Local Authorities on the safety of headstones "Relatives furious at 'state-sponsored' grave desecration", 19 November (http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article1996335.ece). There are no HSE guidelines, though there is guidance produced by the various organisations representing cemeteries.

In 2004, I personally wrote to all Local Authorities reminding them the guidance says that only in the most serious of circumstances should headstones be laid down. This should be managed properly, good communication and explanation, particularly for the families concerned, are vital.

This, in the main, is what is happening, and only in a small number of cases is repair work being carried out in an indiscriminate and over zealous manner. Unfortunately as this is a very emotive issue, it is these cases that attract media attention.

Local Authorities have a very difficult job, balancing their legal duty to protect the public from unnecessary harm and being careful not to cause further upset to the bereaved. The vast majority of Local Authorities are managing this well and should be thanked for dealing with this in a sensitive manner.

Bill Callaghan
Chair
Health and Safety Commission

Updated 2009-04-06