A FAMILY have been left distraught after Havant Borough Council stripped a father’s grave bare in a row over who owns the plot.
Widow Judy Collins, 72, discovered the decorations on her late husband Harry’s grave – and even the cross bearing his name – had been removed when she turned up to pay her respects.
The council said it had put up notices in the area saying graves at Warblington Cemetery not owned by relatives would be cleared away.
But the family of Mr Collins, of Sharps Road, West Leigh – who served as an army mechanic in the Second World War – insist they were never informed.
And they claim his plot was paid for by the Co-operative Funeral Directors when he was buried at the cemetery on May 25, 1988.
Daughter June Collins, of Queen Street said her mother was on one of her weekly visits to the grave when she was greeted with a ‘mound of mud’ instead of her husband’s memorial.
She claims the items were ‘bagged up’ in council sacks and left in a shed.
Miss Collins said: ‘We have been looking after the grave and putting flowers on it every week without fail for 23 years.
‘My mum has been left very distressed by this. A wooden cross made by my sister Linda’s partner has been ruined.’
Miss Collins said the family met council officials and claim they were told there is no record of the grave plot being paid for.
She said the authority told the family notifications were placed on ‘unpaid’ graves and letters sent to families.
Miss Collins added: ‘We haven’t received anything from the council and there was no notice on my dad’s grave. It could have blown off. The council says it has no record of mum owning the grave and has it listed as “common”, which means it can bury someone else on it.’
The council confirmed the plot is one of 2,756 listed as unpurchased in the cemetery and said decorations recently started appearing on it.
A spokeswoman said: ‘Prior to removing these items we attached a sign to the area asking for those who had been visiting to make contact with us.
‘After the time had lapsed for the visitors to make contact the decorations were carefully removed and stored in a safe place.’
Graham Lymn, head of operations for The Southern Co-operative End of Life Services, said it has offered to pay half of the cost for purchasing the plot.
He said: ‘We, nor the council, have been able to find records going back to 1988. It’s difficult to say what may have happened nearly 25 years ago.’