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Belfast City Council apologises after dead woman told to fix her own headstone

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Belfast City Cemetery. Credit: Google

Belfast City Cemetery. Credit: Google

Belfast City Cemetery. Credit: Google

Council officials have apologised after mistakenly writing to a dead woman asking her to carry out repairs to her own headstone.

The lady, who passed away in 2011, was buried in Belfast City Cemetery next to her husband.

Belfast City Council sent the letter to the west Belfast family home asking the deceased to "contact a monumental sculptor" to "make the memorial safe".

Speaking to the Andersonstown News, a family member - who did not want to be named - said it was "a bit of a shock" when she opened the letter.

"Everyone can make mistakes but this is one that could so easily have been avoided with a bit of sensitivity and professionalism," she said.

"City Hall keeps records of deaths so obviously nobody bothered to do any cross-checking.

"It would have been a very simple matter for the workers inspecting the headstones to take a note of who's in the plot as an extra precaution.

"Many if not most of the graves in the cemetery are family plots and somebody should have taken that into consideration before this process started.

"It's just a lack of thought and care in my opinion, and it was totally avoidable.

"I would ask them now just to do what they can to make sure their process is tightened up to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen to any more families. I'm sure it's happened before and it will certainly happen again unless the system is improved."

The letter, which was from the director of city services, said that while the council does "not wish to cause any further upset" to bereaved families, it must "make sure" its cemeteries are "safe places" for workers and visitors.

Belfast City Council is carrying out a memorial inspection programme after an eight-year-old boy was killed by a falling headstone in Scotland in 2015.

A council spokesperson said it was "sincerely sorry" for the hurt caused to the family.

"Some of the information we hold may not have been updated by relatives or family members, hence this administrative error has occurred," the council continued. "We recognise this will have been very upsetting for those receiving the letter and apologise for the error."

However, the family member said loved ones should not be required to update information for the council as it is available "at their fingertips".

When asked if updating the council's records after the statutory death registration process was the responsibility of the deceased's family, the council said: "While we make every effort to ensure the information we have is accurate and up to date, which can be challenging given the passage of time, on this occasion details were missed.

"We will review the process of writing to deed holders to ensure further checks are in place to try to prevent any similar errors or upset for another family."

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