Cemetery scene appals

VANITA PRASAD
Last updated 07:24 08/02/2013
Lynette Lewis
TOTALLY DISTRAUGHT: Lynette Lewis is devastated that the grave of her daughter Shannon was desecrated by Waikumete Cemetery workers.

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Families who had the graves of their babies ripped up by Auckland Council because they were deemed illegal and inappropriate have been apologised to.

On Monday morning the cemetery site was the stage of heated scenes as devastated families confronted Auckland Council cemetery staff for what they say were acts of desecration.

Three rows of stillborn and baby graves were ploughed through as Auckland Council removed slabs and decorations to tidy up the area for grass to be put down.

The work toppled tombstones, tore up memorial slabs and created holes in the ground - one so deep that a coffin was exposed.

The removed decorations were found by the families in a skip bin.

Lynette Lewis, whose only child Shannon died 13 hours after she was born of a diaphragmatic hernia in 1990, says when she visited the grave she was in total disbelief.

"I was so shocked. I was totally devastated. I was there on the Monday before painting pots on her grave and went to see how they looked. That's how we grieve."

Ms Lewis says if she and other parents were told they were not allowed to decorate their children's graves in the way they did, they would not have done it in the first place.

Grieving Henderson grandmother of Kaya Hammond-Norris, Karen O'Sullivan was "absolutely devastated" by Auckland Council's process.

She says families should have been informed.

"They could have had a volunteer call all the families - it's not a large section of the cemetery.

"My 82-year-old father used to come up here all the time to tend to Kaya's grave. He'd be up here crying right now."

A further dismantling of stillborn graves at Waikumete Cemetery has been put on hold after the public backlash.

Eight more rows of graves were due to be reinstated this month but Auckland Council's acting parks, sports and recreation manager Mace Ward says it needs to review its process first.

Council central and western cemeteries manager Daniel Sales says the work was done to give the area some care and prevent injuries from broken decorations.

"A few weeks ago a man walking his dog had one of its major arteries cut on a glass decoration and it had to have major surgery. We wouldn't want that to happen to a child."

Mr Sales says he acknowledges that many families were devastated by the work and encourages others who have graves at the newborn site to get in touch with the cemetery.

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- Western Leader

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