Newmarket Town Council under fire for failing to enforce its own regulations after lockdown funeral left grave damaged
A woman, whose parents’ grave was damaged after hundreds of mourners illegally attended a burial in Newmarket cemetery, has criticised a council for not enforcing its own regulations.
Ann Wise told Newmarket town councillors meeting on Monday that when she had visited the grave of her father and mother, Dennis and Janet Murray, a few days after around 200 mourners had breached Covid rules and packed into the cemetery for the burial of Nottinghamshire woman Prissy Willett, she found it had been walked over and damaged.
“How could such a vast number have been allowed to attend and why have that family been allowed to buy up so many plots and install such huge monuments,” said Mrs Wise.
“Why are the cemetery rules and regulations not being put into action and what is the council going to do to prevent this happening in the future?”
During the meeting, members agreed a raft of revised cemetery regulations as well as temporary rules in place for the duration of the pandemic which include the banning of gazebos at grave areas, public address systems and any wake-type gatherings in the cemetery.
Town mayor Cllr Michael Jefferys said: “I feel we have let down the people of Newmarket by finding ourselves in this situation and we don’t want it to happen again.”
But Cllr Peter Hulbert said: “The police were informed about this funeral but as far as I can see they did nothing. It’s alright having these rules but you have to do something to enforce them.”
Cllr Rachel Hood said: “I want to reassure her (Mrs Wise) that we are making the rules fit for purpose. In the past a lot of graves were sold off but that won’t be happening again.”
And Cllr Kevin Yarrow said he was ‘surprised’ at the number of floral tributes to Mrs Willett had ended up on neighbouring graves.
After the meeting, Mrs Wise said: “This is a very serious issue and I felt the way it was discussed was as if it was of no consequence and I am very, very, disillusioned.
“All I want to see is that something like this does not happen again. I know there have been incidents at the cemetery in the past and the council should have learned from them.”
One of the incidents to which she was referring was in 2009 when Michael Willett, a mourner at the burial of 73-year-old traveller Sophie Penfold, a cousin of his father, was attacked with a meat cleaver in a family dispute.
Last summer the cemetery manager, Sue MacDonald, received complaints of ponies and traps being driven around the cemetery, alcohol being consumed and unathorised vehicles being driven in and she advised the council to try to find a way to manage access to prevent inappropriate use and it is currently looking at installing new more secure gates.
The revised cemetery regulations approved on Monday, also ban alcohol and prohibit floral tributes being placed on graves not owned by the family of the deceased.
Councillors have also agreed that a tree recently planted in the cemetery will be dedicated as a memorial to those who have lost their lives as a result of the coronavirus.