MP John Mann wins grave topple test campaign

BASSETLAW MP John Mann has cause for celebration today after winning his campaign to end the unnecessary topple testing of gravestones in cemeteries up and down the country.

The Ministry for Justice, who has responsibility for burials, has today issued Memorial Safety Guidance. It advises burial operators to use a sensible approach when assessing the safety of stones.

It states that the toppling of stones should be used as a 'last resort', if serious injury is imminent.

"This has been a distressing and expensive situation for many people," said Mr Mann, who trained as a topple tester last year. "For the past year I have been battling to get proper guidelines in place, and I am delighted that I can now put my topple tester away and declare my second trade as a topple tester redundant."

The new guidelines state that when a stone is unsafe, families must be contacted, and only where that is not possible, a notice should be placed on a memorial stone that requires immediate repair.

In recent times many graveyards have been blighted by swathes of gravestones, supported by wooden stakes with large yellow stickers instructing the visitor of its imminent danger and need of repair.

For many relatives, this is the first they know of their family gravestone having failed a 'topple test', and they are left to foot the bill to put right the damage. This costs people an average of 200.

Most topple testing has been done by private contractors, employed by local councils.

Bassetlaw District Council called in the contractors, and large numbers of gravestones were staked in the municipal cemeteries, and many residents turned to MP Mr Mann to help them challenge this situation.

After careful research, Mr Mann learned that some contractors are paid per gravestone they stake, and that memorial masons had 'a new - found opportunity to make money'.

In February last year Mr Mann trained to become a topple tester, and proved that the vast majority of staked gravestones were safe and did not require staking. Indeed, the topple testing process itself had caused damage to a significant number of gravestones that were otherwise perfectly fine.

Mr Mann took his campaign to Parliament. Justice Minister Bridget Prentice examined the national health and safety guidelines to look to bring an end to some of the more over-zealous topple testing of gravestones.

Justice Minister Prentice agreed that the overturning and tampering with gravestones can be upsetting for friends and family of the deceased.

"Cemeteries are important havens of peace and reflection, and their maintenance is essential so that they do not pose a risk to the public," she said.

"However, bereaved families can feel distressed if a memorial stone for a loved one is laid down, propped up, or otherwise marked for repair, without them being made aware."

"This guidance sets out the steps that burial ground operators should take to make cemeteries safe for people, while at the same time keeping families informed."

For the full story see this week's Guardian.