HEADSTONE safety testing is to resume at three cemeteries in the Borders this month following a review of the controversial policy.

Headstones deemed unsafe have been laid flat in recent years amid fears the structures could topple over.

But the policy has led to protests from bereaved families who claim it is desecrating historic sites.

The gravestone of James Hogg, author of 1824’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, was one of 48 laid on the grass in Ettrick Kirkyard after failing safety tests carried out by council staff. That move prompted one villager to remark that the graveyard “now looks as though vandals have run amok”.

The concerns led to the testing programme being temporarily paused as a review of the policy was carried out.

Now the programme is to resume, starting in the newer sections of Lilliesleaf Cemetery, at Wairds Cemetery in Melrose (sections C & D), and at Shawfield Cemetery in Selkirk (section M).

A spokesperson for Scottish Borders Council (SBC) said: “Twenty-eight-day notices have been displayed at the entrances to these cemeteries outlining our intent to begin surveying and making them safe. Memorials will be checked by qualified staff and inspections undertaken with due care and respect. Signs will also be placed at headstones which have failed the safety inspection and have had to be made safe with contact details provided on these to allow people to get in touch with us directly should they wish.”

SBC manages 155 cemeteries and burial grounds across the region, of which 146 fall under a programme of routine headstone inspection.

While government guidance states lairholders are responsible for maintenance and repair of their headstones and memorials, SBC as a burial authority has a legal obligation to ensure public safety and, as far as is reasonably practicable, that cemeteries are maintained in a safe condition.

Thus far SBC has tested 38,742 of the 46,435 headstones it oversees, with 1,856 laid flat. The most recent programme of inspections has been informed by government guidance that was published in 2019 following the fatality of an eight-year-old boy in Glasgow in 2015 as a result of being hit by a falling headstone.