Published: 06:00, 30 June 2020
| Updated: 17:52, 30 June 2020
A mother has spoken of her anger after treasured items were taken from her stillborn baby’s grave without her knowledge.
Mum-of-three Charlotte Day says she is one of many people to have experienced the heartache of tributes being taken from the graves at St Peter's Church in Bredhurst.
The diocese of Rochester, which oversees Church of England churchyards in Medway, has said set regulations apply to all parishes and those seeking a burial are made aware of them.
The issue dates back to 2016 when the relatives of loved ones buried in the graveyard were told they must remove items because they contravene church rules.
Two years later, the church turned to a Church of England judge in an attempt to resolve the matter.
But now mementoes have been taken from the grave without notice, according to Charlotte, who is also mum to sons Mayce and Caiden.
Charlotte, who lost her daughter Ruby in 2014, said: “They did this back in 2017. They removed things from people’s graves and there was a big uproar about it. They calmed it down and didn’t take things off graves of children.
“Then last year, they removed things again.
“But this time, they have literally taken up everything, moved it to the back in the graveyard and they have destroyed them.
“There were nine things they have destroyed [which had been on Ruby’s grave]. Some of the things were irreplaceable.”
The 26-year-old of Walsingham Close, Rainham, added: “They didn't put up signs or notices [to say they were going to do it]. It’s theft, really.”
Charlotte says it has left the churchyard looking like an empty place.
“There is nothing. They have literally taken away everything,” she said.
“Some graves have been left with dead flowers. I had a keyring the size of my little finger. They put that at the back and destroyed that as well.”
Police have said that the taking of specified items was not a criminal matter.
A diocese spokesman said: "St Peter’s churchyard is Church of England land which has been consecrated - made sacred - by a Bishop. This means that it has been placed under the care and protection of the Church, giving it a special status in law. St Peter’s is also a Grade II listed building, which means it is important that the churchyard must be a fitting context for the church building.
"Like all Church of England churchyards across the country, there are a set of regulations which parishes like St Peter’s Bredhurst, are legally obliged to follow. This is so that these shared sacred spaces can remain peaceful and beautiful places, reflecting the Christian context of the churchyard, now and for future generations.
"It makes church yards very different from local authority cemeteries where different rules apply, and which are usually more flexible.
"The regulations apply to all churches in the same way, but following complaint to the church about the degree of non-compliance in some parts of the churchyard at St Peter's the Chancellor, or judge for the Diocese, issued a Judgment in 2017 and added to it this year. This permitted the parish to remove and dispose of any items which had been, or which continued to be, placed in the churchyard that contravened the regulations.
"The churchyard is carefully monitored on a weekly basis, and items that are not permitted within the regulations are removed. This is always done respectfully and sensitively by members of St Peter’s churchyard team, all of whom are volunteers and who take their responsibility very seriously.
"We appreciate that being able to remember departed loved ones, particularly at this time, is vitally important. As a Diocese, we are committed to assisting St Peter’s in their ministry to the bereaved, while helping people understand the need to comply with the Churchyard Regulations, which are about enabling everyone to feel comfortable in commemorating their departed family members in the churchyard.
"We also appreciate that some of the difficult decisions that have had to be made at St Peter’s to ensure the regulations are abided by, have provoked some strong emotion and reaction. This is of course deeply regrettable, and so we continue to support and pray for work being taken to move this situation forward positively."