An attempt by a North London council to buy the UK’s largest burial ground for Turks has failed after the owner of Tottenham Park Cemetery Peter Demetriou rejected the bid.
Enfield Council confirmed to T-VINE that they had recently sought to acquire the privately-owned 2.4 hectare site in North London. However, the offer “has not proceeded following negotiations” as Mr Demetriou rebuffed the offer.
When asked by T-VINE about the bid, Mr Demetriou said the cemetery “was not for sale” and declined the opportunity to give any further comment.
The cemetery and chapel off Montagu Road, Edmonton, are deemed Assets of Community Value, and are also subject to a conservation order, making it appropriate for the local authority to purchase.
Thousands of Turks are buried at Tottenham Park Cemetery and relatives have regularly raised concerns about the state of the site, which was previously owned by Badgehurst.
Badgehurst changed its name to Tottenham Park Cemetery Limited and the company was liquidated in 2018. The cemetery came under new ownership the following year when Mr Demetriou bought it.
Complaints about the cemetery under the former owners resulted in it being closed for several months in March 2018 by Health and Safety officials due to concerns about “a risk to life” for users due to the poor maintenance of the cemetery.
The Tottenham Park Cemetery Action Group (TPCAG) has also documented human remains found in different parts of the cemetery, and there are allegations of the re-use of graves.
There are around 6,000 plots across the cemetery, which first opened in 1912. Most plots have been reused for burials multiple times, with an estimated seven internments in many graves. The details were captured in a report in 2019 by Ministry of Justice (MOJ), which deemed the cemetery “full”.
Fears the cemetery is being used for new burials resurfaced during the coronavirus pandemic, when trees were cut down to make more space available. Some visitors have also claimed that old graves have “disappeared”.
Enfield Council Leader Nesil Caliskan told T-VINE: “The appalling condition of Tottenham Park Cemetery has been a major issue for many years. That’s why when I was elected Leader of Enfield Council I joined the community campaign and pledged that the Council would do everything we could to see improvement.
“It has become clear to me that the only solution is for Tottenham Park Cemetery to be publicly owned. That’s why I signed a cabinet report to enable Enfield Council to buy the site, address the failings and effectively manage and maintain the cemetery going forward. I would urge the owner to do the right thing and accept Enfield Council’s fair proposal.
“I believe that once the cemetery is brought back under Council control we will be able to end the anguish that is being felt by hundreds of families who in good faith chose Tottenham Park Cemetery as the resting place for their relatives.”
As a privately-owned cemetery, Tottenham Park Cemetery is largely unregulated as it falls outside the scope of legislation that governs state-owned cemeteries.
The Local Authorities’ Cemeteries Order 1977 and the Local Government Act 1972 set out how public cemeteries should be operated and maintained, which the owners of private burial grounds are not subject to.
Following complaints from relatives of the deceased buried at Tottenham Park Cemetery, Enfield Council has taken the limited action it legally can. The local authority has sought to control the removal of trees, while escalating other issues to the MOJ and referring health and safety issues to the Health and Safety Executive, which are the two enforcement bodies.
The situation became so severe four years ago that families protested Badgehurst’s poor management and the “appalling state” of the cemetery, which led to the MOJ’s intervention.
The MOJ appointed an Inspector who undertook an inspection of the cemetery and reported back in January 2019. Its findings documented how the cemetery had been inappropriately operated for decades.
Owner urged “to do the right thing” and sell the cemetery
While some of the problems at Tottenham Park Cemetery have been alleviated by the new owner Mr Demetriou, who has invested significantly to make improvements across the site, concerns remain.
When asked about the recent council bid for the cemetery, Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece, who is an active member of the TPCAG, told T-VINE:
“We were pleased Enfield Council has taken the decision to buy the cemetery and to take over management and the duty of care, as they already do with other cemeteries they run.
“Enfield Council offered Mr Demetriou a generous figure and, in the middle of the sale, we learn that he pulled out demanding more money.
“We are hugely disappointed, as we do not believe keeping this cemetery, which is of huge cultural importance to the Turkish Cypriot, Turkish, Kurdish & other communities, in private hands as a cash cow for successive private owners is decent.
“It is full, and there has to be respect for those already buried there,” stated Baroness Hussein-Ece, whose mother, brother and uncle among her relatives buried at Tottenham Park Cemetery.
The Baroness, who is the UK’s most senior politician of Turkish heritage, urged Mr Demetriou to reconsider his position on the sale.
“The chapel is derelict requiring hundreds of thousands of pounds to restore it, which we are ready to raise.
“We would urge Mr Demetriou to do the right thing and allow the Council to work with the communities to invest in, protect and ensure dignity and respect for our loved ones laid to rest there.
“Mr Demetriou told us when he bought it he ‘did it for the community’. Let him demonstrate his respect and commitment to the communities by honouring this agreement. He has made significant profits from the cemetery.”
The Baroness touched on a new problem that has arisen since Mr Demetriou took over the cemetery, with multiple families complaining to TPCAG about the lack of burial documents for those laid to rest these past three years.”
“Tottenham Park Cemetery Action Group works with, and supports numerous members of bereaved families who are unhappy with the current and previous management of the cemetery. We are told, Mr Demetriou has not given out legal right of burial documents to family members since he acquired the cemetery in 2019,” Baroness Hussein-Ece continued.
“We believe it’s time that Tottenham Park Cemetery becomes a protected place of rest for our family members and communities. We have the backing of all the local MPs who want to see this resolved for our community,” the Baroness added.
Main image, top, of trees cut down at Tottenham Park Cemetery, London, 20 July 2020. Photo © Ipek Ozerim / T-VINE
Story updated with quote from Enfield Council Leader Nesil Caliskan, 21 Apr. 2021, 12.51