Council apologises for cemetery damage ‘upset’


By Julie Waters


A DISTRAUGHT local family have shared their heartache after discovering the grave of a loved one had been ‘disrespectfully’ damaged.

The family was horrified to find staff from Ards and North Down Council staff had driven across their loved one’s grave at Donaghadee’s Ballyvester Cemetery on two separate occasions in a three week period, leaving deep tyre tracks.

It is understood this was not an isolated incident as tyre tracks have been found on a number of graves and another family member found clay and stones thrown on to their relative’s grave after an interment was carried out an neighbouring grave plot.

The families and local politicians have hit out at the damage as showing a ‘complete lack of respect’ for a ‘beautiful and sacred place’ which many people visit daily for reflection and to be with a loved one.

In response, the council has apologised for any upset caused and pledged to ‘repair and reinstate’ any damage caused to grave plots. The local authority has also given assurances it will ‘review the processes within the cemetery to try to prevent a recurrence of the incident’.

One local woman, who lost her father last year, shared the ‘terrible upset’ endured by her family after her father’s plot was damaged twice in a matter of weeks.

“From my mum’s point of view it has been terribly upsetting,” she said.

“My mum attends every day and it is incredibly important. She tends to the grave as if it is her house and it sits like a wee sparkly pin. Everything was perfect, it is a lovely quiet cemetery.”

That serenity was shattered when the family discovered heavy machinery had been driven over the family’s plot, leaving deep ruts near to the headstone on two separate occasions. 

Explaining the first incident took place in October, she said: “You have to assume they have heavy machinery and I totally understand that graves need to be dug out. Ours is a grave at the bottom corner and it appeared as if they had just come down and driven over dad’s grave. When mum appeared she nearly had a kitten, they had left deep ruts in the ground.”

Not wanting to make a fuss, the family set about repairing the damage themselves, thinking it had been accidental. The woman said: “We flattened all the ground, my husband went up with a spade and we reseeded it.”

Just three weeks later, the family found their grave plot had been damaged for a second time. As the woman recalled: “Three weeks later and they had done it again. They had driven over it again and pulled it all apart.”

Speaking of the distress caused, the woman said: “I appreciate it is a working area and to do it once is an accident but to drive over after we sowed the grass seed.”

Describing the damage as a ‘complete disaster’ the local woman said that further graves had also been damaged: “Over the opposite side they have driven right over the middle of eight graves.”

She said: “It is very upsetting. This is a sacred area and it is a beautiful area where people go for reflection. It shows a complete lack of respect.”

A council spokesman said the council is aware of this issue at Ballyvester and would like to apologise for any upset caused to residents visiting the cemetery over the last few days.”

He went on to say: “Staff always operate machinery with care and respect but at this particularly wet time of year, machinery can cause some surface damage, especially when opening grave plots at the more restricted areas within the cemetery. 

“All affected areas will be repaired and reinstated, and we will review the processes within the cemetery to try to prevent a recurrence of the incident.”