Turkish community activists have stepped up their campaign to bring the UK’s largest burial ground for British Turks under state control.
An online petition has been launched by the Tottenham Park Cemetery Action Group (TPCAG) to draw attention to conditions at the privately-owned Tottenham Park Cemetery in North London, and to call on the government to “give local councils the necessary powers”, so they can regulate “private burial grounds and cemeteries” to the same “high standards” as those run by local authorities.
TPCAG is also pushing for legislation in the petition titled “Regulate Private Cemeteries” to allow local councils to carry out “compulsory purchase [of] failing cemeteries should all else fail to improve standards.’
Over 500 people have signed the petition in the first 24 hours after it was published on Change.org.
It follows a letter-writing campaign launched by TPCAG last week, where relatives of those buried at the North London cemetery are urged to contact their local Member of Parliament to highlight the “appalling and disturbing condition of the cemetery” and to press for the ‘regulation of private cemeteries’.
One of the main issues raised by TPCAG is the overuse of the cemetery off Montagu Road in Edmonton. The 2.4 hectare site has room for “approximately 6,000 plots and yet since 1912 this small cemetery has seen over 49,000 burials,” the petition text claims.
An investigation and subsequent report into the state of the cemetery by the Ministry of Justices in 2018 estimated that each plot has at least seven bodies buried in it.
In December 2019, T-VINE received photos of what appeared to be human remains allegedly found in the soil backfill for a new grave for a Turkish Cypriot man being laid to rest at Tottenham Park Cemetery.
Bone fragments have also been found in random parts of the cemetery while people were visiting graves.
Other concerns listed in the petition include the “reuse of plots before the expiry of leases” and “memorials being vandalised/damaged, and plots reused if graves appear unvisited.”
Some gravestones also appear to have been “vandalised as a result of cemetery works”. One visitor filmed a workmen cutting branches off a tree, which were left to fall on grave stones below without any effort made to protect the memorials from possible damage.
The “right of burial contracts not being issued” is another problem raised on the petition after relatives complained to the action group and to T-VINE they were only given a receipt that confirms the amount paid, but which lacked details about the terms relating to their plot, including how long the lease is for and what the fee they have paid actually covers.
The petition complains about “no public access to records,” which means that the graves of World War I and II servicemen and other historic figures could potentially be lost too.
Cemetery ownership: from Badgehurst to Peter Demetriou
The cemetery was previously owned by a family firm called Badgehurst, which bought the cemetery in the 80s.
Individual complaints about their neglect and mismanagement of the cemetery increased over the years, which eventually led to the formation of a community action group in 2017 and a concerted campaign demanding major improvements.
Video of a workman at Tottenham Park Cemetery sawing off tree branches without any health & safety considerations for visitors or memorials below
The Health and Safety Executive eventually stepped in and forced the cemetery to “lock the gates” in February 2018 due to fears visitors could be seriously or fatally injured as a result of the multiple safety risks on site. The cemetery remained closed for a month while urgent repairs were carried out.
Badgehurst later transferred control of the cemetery to another family-owned company called Tottenham Park Cemetery Ltd. However, in November 2018, a month before a damning Ministry of Justice report was published, the company went into liquidation.
The cemetery’s new owner is Peter Demetriou, who took over on 4 January 2019.
A funeral director by profession with 30 years of experience primarily with North London’s Greek community, Mr Demetriou purchased Tottenham Park Cemetery “in the hope of restoring and rejuvenating it”, according to a statement on the About Us section of the cemetery’s website.
New cemetery owner seeks to counter TCPAG allegations
The statement further claims that, “Despite those good intentions Mr. Demetriou has met hostility and is under continuous attack in social media.”
Without naming the action group, the cemetery website statements tries to counter the criticisms and allegations made in the current TCPAG-led campaign.
On the allegation about human remains, the cemetery writes: “These attacks have included rummaging around the Cemetery for remains that have surfaced or are near the surface as a consequence of the elements, soil erosion and even the way it was operated previously.”
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The cemetery offers a longer response about the Rights of Burial Deeds, stating that a “detailed digital mapping of the entire Cemetery” is underway, which is required because of the “shambolic historic differing records he [Mr. Demetriou] inherited from his predecessors.”
The new system will, the cemetery states, “identify each and every grave”, “allocate a uniform numbering system”, and “free up grave space for the future use of the Cemetery by the community as a whole.”
The online statement adds that, “Anyone waiting for new Rights of Burial Deeds, should not be concerned as the receipt of payment for the grave is the actual evidence of the right to use the purchased plot and as soon as the mapping and correlation is concluded they will receive an appropriate Deed to keep along with that receipt.”
The statement also draws attention to the “substantial work already undertaken and continuing at the Cemetery”. These include, “repaired driveways, new gates, an automatic gate opening system, CCTV, the construction of an onsite general office, tree clearance, landscaping and w/c facilities for those who register with the Cemetery for Privileged Membership.”