Family hope council will ‘see sense’ over grave

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A couple whose 15-year-old son is buried at Kernan Cemetery in Portadown say they are still hoping the council will see sense and not enforce changes to his grave.

Roy and Cathy Stevenson’s son Jamie, who suffered from muscular dystrophy, died in February 2009 and since then the Portadown parents have been in a protracted battle with the council.

The pair want Jamie’s grave to have a surround and the personal items they have placed on it, but council says this section of Kernan (section B) is lawn-only.

Matters have come to a head with a recent ultimatum from Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council that items such as surrounds, plants, pots and ornaments are to be removed from areas of graves in section B by October 17.

The council says that after that date it will remove the items for “safe keeping and collection by family members”.

Instead, each grave will have a permitted amount of space in front of the headstone where items can be placed.

Mr and Mrs Stevenson are one of a handful of people still objecting to the decision, pointing out that grave-holders in Section A - separated only by a pathway - are allowed to have whatever type of grave they want.

And they claim that they and other bereaved families are suffering from mistakes made by the council down the years, when the lawn-only rules for the entire cemetery weren’t enforced and people freely put up surrounds and other ornaments.

Mr Stevenson has another meeting scheduled with the council in a fortnight’s time and is hoping that some type of compromise can still be reached.

He said, “When Jamie died, we weren’t thinking about things like regulations. I was given the same rule book as people in Section A got, so surely we should be allowed the same privileges as they are.

“We have a marble surround bought for the grave but have only been able to put up the temporary one. It has been very stressful. I have never been able to have closure.”

Jamie, who was deputy head boy at Craigavon Senior High School when he died unexpectedly, was a keen wheelchair footballer and wanted to be a conservationist.

Mrs Stevenson stressed they are just asking for choice. “This is our loved one and it should be up to us as parents what we do with his grave.

“I don’t want my son’s grave in grass where people can walk over the top of him. They didn’t do it when he was alive and I don’t want them doing it now.

“There are people who want grass because it suits them for the council to cut it, and we respect that. But we maintain our son’s grave - the council doesn’t need to do it.”

Meanwhile, this week, another man raised the issue of the way in which the grass had been cut at the cemetery, after visiting his sister’s grave on Sunday.

He said, “They have cut it that short that they have dug into the mud. This was not just done on one strip but all over the cemetery. This shows a total disrespect for those people who are buried here.”

A spokesperson for ABC Council said, “Section B of Kernan Cemetery has always been a lawn only cemetery which would have been made very clear at the time of people buying the plot. The council has some time ago issued a reminder to all grave plot holders of this and of the allocated area for headstones, pots, ornaments, floral tributes and other tributes.

“Council has recently written to a very small number of grave plot holders with specific information on compliance to the regulations. If necessary council will either reposition or remove items and keep for collection by family members.

“However, we hope that all plot holders will respect the rules and regulations so that no further action will need to be taken.

“Regarding the grass being cut too short, it was simply the machinery had been set too low. Steps have been taken to make sure that this will not happen again. Kernan Cemetery is very well maintained to a very high standard despite an ongoing extension.”