TOURISTS and political pilgrims are to be barred from visiting the grave of former Labour leader John Smith on the Hebridean island of Iona. Trustees at the island's 13th-century abbey are fencing off the tomb.
So many people have gone to pay their respects to the much-loved politician, who died last year, that they are destroying the ancient burial ground, the trustees say. Plots surrounding the tomb have been trampled and gravestones damaged.
Now a 3ft-high fence will keep visitors at least 30ft away, allowing only locals and relatives to enter the area where Mr Smith is buried and protecting the revered site of Scotland's earliest Christian settlement.
The move, which is backed by Mr Smith's widow, Elizabeth, comes two months after crofters and fishermen began to protest against the decision to grant Mr Smith, a mainlander, a plot in a cemetery normally reserved for islanders and their descendants. They were angry at political pilgrims "desecrating" the site.
Last month the trustees responded to locals' concerns by erecting makeshift railings around Mr Smith's grave. But when visitors began to climb over the barriers they decided to fence off the area altogether.
Crichton Lang, who administers the cemetery for the Iona Abbey trustees, said: "We never expected so many people to visit the site after Mr Smith's funeral and we did not anticipate that so many of them would behave as badly as they have - clambering all over the graveyard and standing on the gravestones to get a better view. We did not want to put up a barrier in such a sacred place but we believe it is the only way."
Erecting the 36ft-long fence, which, with expensive survey work, will cost pounds 10,000, will begin later this year. Islanders and Mr Smith's family will be able to reach Mr Smith's tomb through a special gate. Locals have welcomed the decision.
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