Work to reinstate headstones laid flat in Orkney's cemeteries is due to get underway shortly.
Work will begin in Stenness with the initial focus being on headstones that are under one metre tall and were put up after 1950. These will be reinstated at no cost to the family.
Stones that are pre-1950 or over one metre tall will require contact between the council and families, to discuss what happens next. Families can also carry out re-erection work themselves, if they prefer, but this will need to be done to specific standards, which can also be discussed with the council.
Interim work will also be carried out across a variety of cemeteries in the coming weeks to infill the holes left by the headstones that have been laid flat.
In May 2018, it was announced that Orkney Islands Council would be carrying out a statutory safety review of all its cemeteries, with any headstones deemed to be at risk of toppling laid flat.
The intention was that only those stones deemed by the Council to be at the greatest risk of toppling would be laid flat and that, where the Council's records would allow, families would be contacted in advance. However these intentions were not met - and a full apology was issued by the Council to those affected.
Plans for how any future safety works might be carried out are now being put together by a working group made up of Councillors and officials and chaired by Council Convener Harvey Johnston.
The remedial works will be carried out in the order in which the original work was done.
Gavin Barr is the Council's Director of Development and Infrastructure Services. He said: "As part of our investigations into this work, including taking into consideration the feedback we've received from the public, we've reviewed the benchmark we set for a headstone being at risk. On reflection we now believe it is reasonable to lower the threshold of risk on smaller headstones and will react accordingly by reinstating the stones that are one metre or less. We've set the additional benchmark of 1950 and over, as we believe stones older than this may generally require additional works that need to be discussed with families."
Harvey Johnston is Convener of Orkney Islands Council - "We apologise again for the upset and distress that has been caused to local families and hope that you they are comforted that appropriate action is being taken to put this right. As a caring organisation, responsive to public concern, we will restore kirkyards to the condition people would expect.
"As we look to the future, local folks’ safety will remain an important concern for us and we will be resuming our headstone inspections at an appropriate time. Be assured though that we're taking steps to make sure that our actions are proportionate to the risk posed, that we mark stones identified as being unsafe and highlight these to local community representatives and that we give relatives the time they need to discuss with us any work they might wish to carry out themselves."
If you are a family who have had a stone laid flat and that stone is either over one metre tall or pre-1950, then you should contact the Council to discuss what further action needs to be taken.
If you are family who have had a stone laid flat and you do not wish the Council to carry out any more work with it, then you should also contact the Council to advise them of this and discuss any work you plan to do.
Phone calls should be made to the Council’s Democratic Services team on 01856 873535 extension 2234.