SCOTTISH Borders Council is refuting claims by families that headstones were damaged by contractors during recent safety works.

Angry members of the community hit out at the local authority following the action to topple over 700 headstones in the Peebles Cemetery.

The work was dubbed as “vandalism” from community leaders who called for remedial action.

But last week the town’s community council was told the local authority has photographic evidence to prove that damage to the headstones is historical and not caused by workmen carrying out safety testing.

Following a request by Peebles Community Council asking if the correct procedures were followed by contractors, Councillor Heather Anderson said: “I’ve been assured that the correct process was employed. I asked about whether or not people were contacted before the action was undertaken and I received a long report about the advanced notice that was given as well as notices in the community.

“The reassurance from the Council is that they are certain the contractor worked within the correct guidelines.

"There is an acknowledgement that people aren’t happy about it. Jason (Hedley) has said in most cases they were made safe immediately through socketing instead of laying them flat.

“I’ve found out the cost of repairing the memorials, it’s about £200 to put a headstone back on a plinth. So if there were any attempts to actually restore some of the most significant headstones or ones were individuals want to undertake the work this would be the cost. I know you spoke before about perhaps setting aside a fund if anyone was struggling.”

Chairman of the Community Council Lawrie Hayworth said the community was in the dark when it came to the safety works.

“Nobody had any idea that it was going to be 709 stones that were going to be affected. It’s a huge percentage of the gravestones in areas of the cemetery. Also whilst notice was given both in the press and at the entrance, the terminology used was to ‘reinstate’.

“It’s one of those ones where we have housing numbers applied that are ‘indicative’ and then planning applications that are 50 percent higher and we are told its indicative there will be houses nothing to do with the number.

“I think the use of the word reinstate in this context clearly gave the opportunity for people to interpret that in a way that it would appear to be much the same as it was. We are where we are but I think we as a community are not happy about what we’ve got now as a cemetery the way it is.”

The local authority says the contractor is not responsible for the damage to headstones and memorials.

Councillor Robin Tatler read out a letter from Neighbourhood Services Manager Jason Headley which stated: “There appears to be some mix up between our current process of works and historical issues in the burial ground. We have a picture record of the condition of each stone at the time of testing and have received contact from individuals claiming that this latest process has resulted to unacceptable damage to memorials. When we’ve referenced this with our records it appears this damage was historic and therefore not related to this current process.”

During a visit to the cemetery with fellow Councillor Stuart Bell and members of the Peebles Callant's Club, Councillor Tatler said the two members remarked “unprompted” on how good the cemetery was looking.

But community councillors are concerned that this is not a sentiment echoed by the general public.

Mr Hayworth added: “I would like to see whether or not there is a consensus to have a ‘Friends of Peebles Cemetery’ to draw together what strands of funding might be available and what time may be available from people with the skills to contribute.

“This might be appropriate in terms of pulling together, having a funding channel, a bank account and insurance by writing a letter to the Community Trust. Would community councillors agree the Community Trust could approach the community to see if there is any appetite for this? There may not be. Maybe like the two individuals who were with Councillor Tatler and Councillor Bell they feel it’s not an issue.”

Peebles community councillors unanimously agreed the suggestion to gauge the feeling of the wider community regarding the cemetery via Peebles Community Trust.