Grave damage families' outcry

JAMES IRELAND
Last updated 05:00 19/02/2013
Lynette Lewis
VANITA PRASAD/ Fairfax NZ
FAMILY CONCERNS: Lynette Lewis is devastated that the grave of her daughter Shannon was desecrated by Waikumete Cemetery workers.

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Decorations removed from babies' graves at Waikumete Cemetery will be put back following an outcry from family members.

Planned maintenance work has stopped and topsoil has been spread over the graves that were damaged by cemetery staff trying to regrass the area on February 2. 

Auckland Council has issued a public apology to all families affected by the work. Council's acting manager of regional and specialist parks, Richard Hollier, said representatives would meet the families individually to apologise and talk to them about what decorations were suitable for the area.

The council would also update its database of contacts.

''Maintaining a database allows us to contact people if a grave or headstone is damaged or requires repair, or to communicate any changes that may affect them and to notify them of upcoming work,'' he said.

Cemetery manager Daniel Sales said the affected area of the cemetery had always been a lawn area and it was being regrassed along with other sections of the cemetery.

Karen O'Sullivan said if she had known it was a lawn area the family would never have buried her granddaughter Kaya Hammond-Norris there.

''There was no real attempt to contact families before they removed the decorations,'' she said.  

''The lesson that came out of it is that people need to be consulted but that lesson came at a cost of major heartbreak.''

Under local bylaws work can be done on graves without giving notice if the council feels there is a risk of physical injury. Otherwise written notice must be given to the last known contact 14 working days in advance.

O'Sullivan said the only notice her family got was a sign posted in the cemetery grounds.

The bylaw also states that all items removed from plots must be kept for three months and must be photographed.

The decorations removed at Waikumete were thrown into a skip bin but have since been recovered and will be put back.

Lynette Lewis' daughter's grave was also damaged and she is yet to be contacted by the council.

''I really can't believe anyone in their right mind would have done this. One of the guys who works at the cemetery said he wouldn't put 'that crap' on a grave when he saw what had been removed from my daughter's grave.''

Lewis said it brought all her grief back.

''It was very hard on the day. I just wish I had known about it. Better communication is all I'm asking for.''

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