Published: 13:56, 02 April 2021
| Updated: 13:57, 02 April 2021
A mum and dad have been left angry and heartbroken after their son's memorial bench vanished without warning.
The bench has sat on a cliff-top in Herne Bay for eight years, since Aaron Ritchie's tragic death at the age of just 24, in a spot that was "extremely special" to him.
But his family and friends were shocked to find the bench has now been moved, without anyone informing them.
They have been told it was allegedly moved by the city council, over concerns about recent land slips nearby.
But Aaron's mum, Linda Ritchie, has branded the unannounced move "horrific", adding: "It was so emotional, I can't tell you. It's like moving a gravestone."
Aaron, who was a popular DJ at Vivid nightclub in Herne Bay, sadly died of a cocaine overdose on December 1, 2012.
His grief-stricken friends, including Vivid owner Karl Ahmad, raised about £2,000 for the memorial bench to be erected in his honour near Reculver Drive, overlooking the sea.
"This area was extremely special to Aaron," explained his mum.
"It was the place he always went, all through his childhood, teens and up until he died. If you couldn't find him, that's where he was. So it was very symbolic that the bench went there."
The spot was cleared by Aaron's friends, and spring bulbs were planted there.
"We made it a place that's used by so many people," said Mrs Ritchie.
"All his friends go to spend time up there, and so do we. It's a very, very special, important place.
"Every year on the anniversary of his death, his family and friends meet there and have a barbecue.
"Aaron was cremated, so that's his memorial. That's where he is."
The bench is lovingly tended to by Aaron's dad, John.
But on Wednesday, Mr Ritchie was distraught to find it had vanished, with its original foundation left behind.
He later discovered the bench had been cemented in a new position at the bottom of the cliff pathway.
"It looks like it's been angle-grinded off its base, then metal has been screwed onto the legs, and it's been cemented into the ground." said Mr Ritchie. "It's a right mess.
"Whoever is responsible has actually desecrated my son's grave."
Following frantic calls to the council, the couple were unable to find out why the bench had been moved.
But since posting about the incident on Facebook, Mrs Ritchie has been informed its original location is set to be closed off, following landslips at nearby Bishopstone Glen.
"But the fact is, the council did not consult us," said Mrs Ritchie.
"It's horrific. It's like moving a gravestone - like moving a grave.
"The place it's in now is hideous, and quite ridiculous.
"The least they could have done was say 'this is what we're going to do, where would you like us to put it?'"
Aaron's parents now hope the council will replace the bench, which they say has been damaged by the move.
"I would like them to replace the bench where it was, and for it to stay there," said Mrs Ritchie.
"Shut or open, it's his special place and that's where it should stay.
"Even if I can't see it, we'd want it there forever, and probably one day it would fall into the sea.
"As a gesture of goodwill, I'd like the original bench so I can put it in my back garden."
Richelle Burrowes, a close friend of Aaron's who organised the erection of the bench, added: "Disrespectful is kind of an understatement.
"That was Aaron's special place - the place we'd go sit for hours if I was upset or we wanted to talk about stuff - and it's become a place for everyone.
"So to have it taken away is just awful.
"Linda said she'd rather the bench fall into the sea, and I kind of feel that's what should have happened. It would kind of be symbolic.
"It's the place where he's meant to be."
City councillor Rachel Carnac, who represents Reculver, said: "My thoughts are with Mr and Mrs Ritchie.
"My understanding is that the bench was moved because that area in Bishopstone has suffered landslips over the winter and it is for safety reasons that people are not being encouraged up onto the cliff there or to follow the path that loops back into the Glen, and this path is to be closed off.
"I am sure the council will be in contact with Mr and Mrs Ritchie after the Easter holiday to explain the reasons for moving the bench and to discuss this with them.
"In the meantime, I know that the last thing anyone would have wanted to do was upset Mr and Mrs Ritchie or their memories of this special place for their son, Aaron."
The city council says it is looking into what happened.
Spokesman Rob Davies said: "We’re sorry to hear that Aaron’s memorial bench has been moved and understand that this would be upsetting.
"We will look into what has happened and contact Mrs Ritchie as soon as we have more information."