Contractors clear teen's grave, expose grief

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2014
Sheryl Featonby holds a photo of her daughter, Oshon Wilson, whose grave was cleared by council contractors. Also pictured are Oshon’s best friend, Micayla Hill, and Aaron Featonby.
CHRIS HILLOCK
STILL HURTING: Sheryl Featonby holds a photo of her daughter, Oshon Wilson, whose grave was cleared by council contractors. Also pictured are Oshon’s best friend, Micayla Hill, and Aaron Featonby.

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Oshon Wilson's family and friends covered her grave in pink, white and red roses and contractors took every last one in the name of policy enforcement.

Oshon was 17 when she was found dead inside her brother's Claudelands house last October.

Both her babies had earlier been taken into state care, leaving Oshon distraught. Her death - which followed a suicide attempt while pregnant with her second child - marked the final chapter of her short life.

Now her remains lie beneath a barren Whatawhata Cemetery plot. The plot was "beautiful", her mother Sheryl Featonby said through tears, until the council's maintenance men moved in.

"We got so many comments on how beautiful it was. There was a box there that people could write little messages and leave them in. And they took everything, other than the cross in the ground."

There were so many lights that drivers could see it from the main highway, nearby.

Featonby admitted she was told to clear the grave yet she refused as others were similarly decorated.

She understood the $2000 plot was theirs to do as they pleased. The family wanted to erect a perimeter, like a nearby plot, but she was told that's not allowed.

The cemetery is a "lawn cemetery" and the grace period was over.

Waikato District Council's rules are clear - flowers can be left on grave mounds for 40 days after which the dirt is removed and the soil is sown in grass. "After that it is important to keep grassed areas clear for mowing purposes, and to confine flowers and other objects in holders at the base of the headstone or within the concrete berm," the rules state.

Featonby drove to Oshon's grave every day after she was buried on November 2. She slept there in the car park some nights to stay close to her. When Featonby dies, she'll be buried above Oshon.

When contractors cleared the grave, it was "like losing her again".

"There're not really any words. It was horrible. When I went in to see them they said we sent you a letter."

The council's service delivery manager, Tim Harty, wouldn't front for an interview with the Waikato Times but the council supplied a statement.

In it Harty acknowledged it was a "difficult time for the family" and he was aware council's actions had caused "some distress to family members who weren't aware of the situation".

"It is our policy to provide the necessary information at the time of registering for the right of burial but understand that during difficult times information may be misinterpreted, misunderstood or not passed on to all family members.

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"In this particular case, we have discussed the requirements on various occasions with the nominated family representative - the deceased's mother - and she was advised that the ornaments would be removed respectfully by our staff, and stored in a safe place. They were securely stored until [Monday] when, with her consent, family representatives arranged collection . . .

"We're aware that a headstone will be placed on the plot at a later stage and we will work with the family to arrange a suitable area for the laying down of memorabilia as an interim measure."

Harty said the council was mindful that similar actions could occur with other cemetery sites across the district. "However, we would also need to address these situations in line with our policies."

- Waikato Times

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