Heartache over ban on Exmouth grave memorials

PUBLISHED: 12:30 10 August 2015

St John in the Wilderness Church

St John in the Wilderness Church


Parents of a stillborn baby girl have told of their pain and anguish at being forced to remove keepsakes from their daughter's grave - because of health and safety rules.

Richard and Tracy Nowell, of Withycombe Village Road, are among scores of families angry by St John in the Wilderness Church’s decision, banning trinkets, keepsakes and decorations from loved-ones’ graves.

The church said keepsakes on graves made the churchyard look untidy, were ‘potentially dangerous’ to visitors and staff, jeopardised the church insurance policy and made the job of maintaining the area ‘almost impossible’.

Families collecting possessions were distressed and angry to find they had to rummage through cardboard boxes, where items had been ‘dumped’ by the church.

Father Robert Sellers said glass and sharp items left on graves prompted the ban. He said trinkets blowing across the churchyard caused distress to some families.

Fr Sellers said churchyard regulations barred any personal items or artefacts from graves.

He said the ban was prompted when a happy medium could not be met after the church appealed to families to reduce the ‘mess’ in the churchyard.

He said: “It really is difficult. I really do feel bad about it, but I don’t know what I can do about it.

“I really do feel for folk that are upset by it, but it’s been done for health and safety reasons.

“We have been told by our insurers if anyone gets hurt we were unlikely to be covered on our policy.

“We have asked people nicely to remove items but, unfortunately, they don’t take any notice. The churchyard regulations bar any items at all.”

Richard and his wife continue to struggle to come to the terms with the death of their daughter, Eleanor, 11 years ago. She was delivered stillborn after her heart stopped.

He parents visit her grave weekly and each Sunday her mum lights a candle for the child she never got to see grow up.

Before the ban, Eleanor’s parents kept three small items on her grave – a small resin teddy, an angel and a lantern.

Now stripped of keepsakes, Tracy, 47, finds it difficult to visit the churchyard and trips to her daughter’s grave have ceased.

The couple, who were unable to have any more children after Eleanor’s stillbirth, said they feel like they have lost their daughter again.

They say the church has moved the goalposts; they claim Father Tony Oswin, rector of Withycombe Raleigh for 18 years, who retired in 2010, allowed small items to be left on children’s graves.

They currently keep their daughter’s trinkets with their dog’s memorial at home.

Richard, 56, who has grown-up children from a previous relationship, learned on Father’s Day he must remove his baby’s possessions.

He said: “When our baby was born, they gave us a photo. We have never looked at it again. The only thing we have is her grave.

“None of them understand the pain they are causing my wife and my family.

“My wife has no children. I want to emphasise how emotional I get and protective I get over my wife and her feelings. She hasn’t done anything. It’s so cruel. It’s unnecessarily hurtful

“The things on my baby’s grave were not offensive or obtrusive in any way, but they are of massive importance; you always get an angel because an angel looks after your baby. There was a teddy because it was the only teddy bear we got to give our baby and we had a lantern because it’s a dark place.

“They were not interfering with grave maintenance. I had got permission by Father Tony Oswin to have small things of significance.

“I went to the churchyard on Sunday morning. My wife didn’t want to go because she couldn’t light a candle. I went on my own so I could cut the grass.”

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