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Council ordered to repair graveyard

IN WHAT is being described as 'a landmark judgment' a Church of England judge sitting at the Old Bailey yesterday ordered Lambeth Council to restore and repair seven listed monuments.

They had been demolished or damaged by the council during clearance work at West Norwood cemetery, south London, the resting place of scores of eminent Victorian inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs. The cemetery contains the graves of Mrs Beeton, of cookery book fame, Baron Paul de Reuter, who founded the news agency, and Sir Henry Tate, the sugar magnate after whom the gallery is named.

Conservationists had accused the council of illegally demolishing and removing several thousand stone monuments.

Yesterday Robert Gray QC, Chancellor of the Diocese of Southwark, decreed that the council should restore three missing listed monuments. He also ordered the council to repair four other listed memorials damaged during clearance work in 1990, and permit conservation groups to pay for the repair of two other missing memorials.

Richard Bird, the Archdeacon of Lambeth, had petitioned the Southwark consistory court to require the council to restore the cemetery to the condition it was in before grave clearances in the 1970s and 1990. These were to make cemetery maintenance easier and to permit new burials on top of existing graves.

The council was asking the court for retrospective faculty, the ecclesiastical equivalent of retrospective planning permission.

Mr Gray granted retrospective planning permission for past clearances on the 42- acre (17-hectare) site, but not for clearances where gravestones were demolished to make way for burials. He said that the re-use of burial space was and is 'wholly illegal'.

While the cemetery and its monuments were owned by the council, families were granted licences for the exclusive use of individual plots either in perpetuity or for a limited period.

There was no way of proving that the council had damaged or removed specific monuments during the 1970s, but where he had evidence that the council was responsible for specific damage he had made orders to restore.