Great Harwood couple's anger at 'insensitive' letter over baby's memorial tree

Great Harwood couple's anger at 'insensitive' letter over baby's memorial tree

Great Harwood couple's anger at 'insensitive' letter over baby's memorial tree

First published in Hyndburn
Last updated

THE parents of a baby who died at four-days-old have been told to remove items from a tree planted in his memory or see them thrown away by council workers.

Mark Roberts and his partner Joanne Gaskarth planted the tree in Great Harwood’s Memorial Park after their son, Thomas Gaskarth-Roberts, died in November 2012.

But the couple were left deeply upset after receiving a letter from Hyndburn Council which said the items posed a risk to the health and safety of workmen using lawnmowers and must be removed before the end of the month.

The letter said: “If this is not possible council staff will remove the items and store them for a month before disposing of them.”

The council has since apologised for causing any upset. Mr Roberts said he paid for the tree to be planted because he walks his dogs on the memorial park, in Church Lane, twice a day.

The 37-year-old policeman said: “It sounds silly but it’s sentimental. It gives solace to me and my family.”

Mark said people using the park had hung items and placed three small plastic cars under the tree’s plaque after seeing it was a memorial for a baby. He and Joanne laid flowers around it at Christmas.

He said: “We received a letter from Hyndburn Borough Council saying if we don’t remove them they will remove and destroy them citing health and safety, because work men have to cut the grass.

“There’s a lot of dog muck on that park which is more of a health and safety issue than a few plastic cars - unless they think they would hurt their back bending over.

“It’s the tone of the letter that bothered us. There’s a veiled threat running right through it. “We will move them, but it’s the manner in which the council have gone about it.

“It’s senseless bureaucracy. They send these letters out and don’t realise what effect they can have on people. “It’s upsetting for me and Joanne.”

Accrington bereavement counsellor, Margaret Hope, said memorial trees were ‘somewhere to be’ with a loved one who had passed away and to have the memorials taken away would be ‘another loss’ for the family to deal with.

She said: “There is an attachment and the tree is a symbol to them. It’s somewhere for them to remember him.”

Mark said the letter came following 18 months of heartache and stress following Thomas’s death. He wasn’t breathing when he was born at Royal Preston Hospital on November 26, 2012. He was moved to Burnley General Hospital where he was placed on life support but his distraught parents switched it off on the advice of doctors three days later.

A spokesperson for Hyndburn Council said: “We apologise if the letter has upset any members of the family as this is clearly not our intention.

“When memorial trees are purchased we do offer families the opportunity to have a name plaque installed so that they can remember their loved ones.

“Unfortunately if people leave other items around the trees they can be damaged when we undertake routine maintenance, such as grass cutting and sometimes the items can pose a health and safety risk to staff using the lawnmowers etc.

“When this situation arises we write to the family offering them the opportunity to remove such items, or alternatively for the council to place them into storage for a month until the family picks them up.

“This is exactly what we did in this case and we would be very happy to work with members of the family if they would like to talk to us about which of these they would prefer.”

But Mark, of Louie Pollard Crescent, Great Harwood, hit back and said: “The workmen can’t get that close to the tree without damaging the plaque or even the strimmer itself. The council has used a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

Mark said three post-mortems had been carried out in an attempt to find the cause of Thomas’s death. The couple, who also have a 12-year-old daughter Isabelle and a three-month-old son Max Thomas, said they were awaiting a report this month to see if the care for Thomas and Joanne was negligent.

A spokesperson for Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “Firstly we wish to express our sincere condolences to the parents and family of Thomas Gaskarth-Roberts.

“We always aim to provide the highest standard of care, but we are unable to comment any further at this stage due to legal proceedings.”

Comments (17)

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7:54am Thu 6 Feb 14

AnthonyUK says...

How could Hyndburn Borough Council be so shockingly insensitive? They should be ashamed of themselves!
How could Hyndburn Borough Council be so shockingly insensitive? They should be ashamed of themselves! AnthonyUK
  • Score: -16

9:46am Thu 6 Feb 14

Izanears says...

Sorry Anthony but the council is right. Far too many graves these days look like a branch of TOYS R US. Remember your lost loved ones in your heart and mind. Leaving dead flowers, soggy teddy bears, and other grimy paraphernalia is a sign of disrespect, rather than respect for someone's memory.
Sorry Anthony but the council is right. Far too many graves these days look like a branch of TOYS R US. Remember your lost loved ones in your heart and mind. Leaving dead flowers, soggy teddy bears, and other grimy paraphernalia is a sign of disrespect, rather than respect for someone's memory. Izanears
  • Score: 24

10:04am Thu 6 Feb 14

woolywords says...

Oh here we go again, another truly sad tale of where a council behaves with total insensitivity towards a grieving family, with their rules about what is and what isn't allowed. It's enough to make a grown man weep, it really is!
OK, so you have your Health and Safety law to abide by but why not seek a compromise that suits everyone's purpose and find a little corner that can be dedicated to children alone? Is that such an hard thing to do?
I know of a little garden, where the grass isn't cut to military precision, there are weeds and wild flowers growing alongside each other. There are stuffed toys, little cars, rusting away, in the tufts of grass. Annual flowers, jostling with snowdrops, tulips and daffodils. Some say, that at certain times of the year, there are even carrots, radish, beetroot and lettuce growing there. Designed as a garden to remember one Dutch child, it has been taken over by children, to remember all children. They come in coach parties from all over Europe, to scatter a few seeds in memory of Anne Frank and has become a bit of a tradition in it's own right, that even the Government won't seek to curtail, control or stop.
So why is it so hard for one local authority not to set aside some little patch, that is allowed to grow wild and unkempt, with teddy bears, toys, flowers and vegetables, as messed up as any child's bedroom?
Go on, you know you want to..
Oh here we go again, another truly sad tale of where a council behaves with total insensitivity towards a grieving family, with their rules about what is and what isn't allowed. It's enough to make a grown man weep, it really is! OK, so you have your Health and Safety law to abide by but why not seek a compromise that suits everyone's purpose and find a little corner that can be dedicated to children alone? Is that such an hard thing to do? I know of a little garden, where the grass isn't cut to military precision, there are weeds and wild flowers growing alongside each other. There are stuffed toys, little cars, rusting away, in the tufts of grass. Annual flowers, jostling with snowdrops, tulips and daffodils. Some say, that at certain times of the year, there are even carrots, radish, beetroot and lettuce growing there. Designed as a garden to remember one Dutch child, it has been taken over by children, to remember all children. They come in coach parties from all over Europe, to scatter a few seeds in memory of Anne Frank and has become a bit of a tradition in it's own right, that even the Government won't seek to curtail, control or stop. So why is it so hard for one local authority not to set aside some little patch, that is allowed to grow wild and unkempt, with teddy bears, toys, flowers and vegetables, as messed up as any child's bedroom? Go on, you know you want to.. woolywords
  • Score: -5

10:19am Thu 6 Feb 14

AnthonyUK says...

Izanears wrote:
Sorry Anthony but the council is right. Far too many graves these days look like a branch of TOYS R US. Remember your lost loved ones in your heart and mind. Leaving dead flowers, soggy teddy bears, and other grimy paraphernalia is a sign of disrespect, rather than respect for someone's memory.
The council are a bunch of dogooding monkeys more like!
[quote][p][bold]Izanears[/bold] wrote: Sorry Anthony but the council is right. Far too many graves these days look like a branch of TOYS R US. Remember your lost loved ones in your heart and mind. Leaving dead flowers, soggy teddy bears, and other grimy paraphernalia is a sign of disrespect, rather than respect for someone's memory.[/p][/quote]The council are a bunch of dogooding monkeys more like! AnthonyUK
  • Score: -19

10:36am Thu 6 Feb 14

woolywords says...

Izanears wrote:
Sorry Anthony but the council is right. Far too many graves these days look like a branch of TOYS R US. Remember your lost loved ones in your heart and mind. Leaving dead flowers, soggy teddy bears, and other grimy paraphernalia is a sign of disrespect, rather than respect for someone's memory.
Don't get out much, do you?
Just as I can tell by your comment, that you've never been to Highgate Cemetery, in London. Where your eyes will be filled with mausoleums, catafalque, crypts and obelisks, with a cornucopia of pedimentia that is just completely bizarre. Those Victorians and Edwardians didn't just mourn their dead, they raised them to near Gods, in their grief.
Compare that to the flat, featureless landscape that is a burial ground for Muslim women, where there is nothing to mark their ever being here, let alone died!
Given your comment, I won't bother in making a suggestion that the council turn out a few sheep into the cemetery, as used to happen in my village churchyard, to keep the grass down. Or even, go so far as to suggest that goats be kept, with them being sold to local butchers, to make a little money towards it's upkeep.
It is only in the latter part of the last century, that there has been this obsession with the way that graveyards appear in the larger towns and cities, where some of us, from the countryside, are a little more relaxed about it.
[quote][p][bold]Izanears[/bold] wrote: Sorry Anthony but the council is right. Far too many graves these days look like a branch of TOYS R US. Remember your lost loved ones in your heart and mind. Leaving dead flowers, soggy teddy bears, and other grimy paraphernalia is a sign of disrespect, rather than respect for someone's memory.[/p][/quote]Don't get out much, do you? Just as I can tell by your comment, that you've never been to Highgate Cemetery, in London. Where your eyes will be filled with mausoleums, catafalque, crypts and obelisks, with a cornucopia of pedimentia that is just completely bizarre. Those Victorians and Edwardians didn't just mourn their dead, they raised them to near Gods, in their grief. Compare that to the flat, featureless landscape that is a burial ground for Muslim women, where there is nothing to mark their ever being here, let alone died! Given your comment, I won't bother in making a suggestion that the council turn out a few sheep into the cemetery, as used to happen in my village churchyard, to keep the grass down. Or even, go so far as to suggest that goats be kept, with them being sold to local butchers, to make a little money towards it's upkeep. It is only in the latter part of the last century, that there has been this obsession with the way that graveyards appear in the larger towns and cities, where some of us, from the countryside, are a little more relaxed about it. woolywords
  • Score: -7

11:01am Thu 6 Feb 14

Blackburnley says...

Whilst the letter may be insensitive, the council are right. This is a public park laid out in 1921 to the memory of those who perished in WW1.
A few years ago when many of the original memorial trees were being lost, because of time, the council agreed to allow new memorial trees to be planted. Agreements are signed and restrictions are in place as to what can be placed on and around the tree.
If every tree which had been planted were adorned with ornaments, toys or any other paraphernalia the whole purpose of a public park would be lost
Whilst the letter may be insensitive, the council are right. This is a public park laid out in 1921 to the memory of those who perished in WW1. A few years ago when many of the original memorial trees were being lost, because of time, the council agreed to allow new memorial trees to be planted. Agreements are signed and restrictions are in place as to what can be placed on and around the tree. If every tree which had been planted were adorned with ornaments, toys or any other paraphernalia the whole purpose of a public park would be lost Blackburnley
  • Score: 28

12:30pm Thu 6 Feb 14

Fire Fly says...

From the sections of the letter quoted above...it doesn't sound insensitive to me, the council have said they will remove the items & store them for a month. Insensitive would be throwing them away upon removal.

If this was the babies grave I would feel very differently but it isn't, its a public park for all members of the public to enjoy. Personally, I dont want to walk through a park & past memorials to lost loved ones, especially when its a child because I find that upsetting. We have cemeteries for mourning the ones we've loved & lost where we can take flowers or other little mementoes.
From the sections of the letter quoted above...it doesn't sound insensitive to me, the council have said they will remove the items & store them for a month. Insensitive would be throwing them away upon removal. If this was the babies grave I would feel very differently but it isn't, its a public park for all members of the public to enjoy. Personally, I dont want to walk through a park & past memorials to lost loved ones, especially when its a child because I find that upsetting. We have cemeteries for mourning the ones we've loved & lost where we can take flowers or other little mementoes. Fire Fly
  • Score: 26

2:09pm Thu 6 Feb 14

Rover since 1947 says...

woolywords wrote:
Izanears wrote:
Sorry Anthony but the council is right. Far too many graves these days look like a branch of TOYS R US. Remember your lost loved ones in your heart and mind. Leaving dead flowers, soggy teddy bears, and other grimy paraphernalia is a sign of disrespect, rather than respect for someone's memory.
Don't get out much, do you?
Just as I can tell by your comment, that you've never been to Highgate Cemetery, in London. Where your eyes will be filled with mausoleums, catafalque, crypts and obelisks, with a cornucopia of pedimentia that is just completely bizarre. Those Victorians and Edwardians didn't just mourn their dead, they raised them to near Gods, in their grief.
Compare that to the flat, featureless landscape that is a burial ground for Muslim women, where there is nothing to mark their ever being here, let alone died!
Given your comment, I won't bother in making a suggestion that the council turn out a few sheep into the cemetery, as used to happen in my village churchyard, to keep the grass down. Or even, go so far as to suggest that goats be kept, with them being sold to local butchers, to make a little money towards it's upkeep.
It is only in the latter part of the last century, that there has been this obsession with the way that graveyards appear in the larger towns and cities, where some of us, from the countryside, are a little more relaxed about it.
But it isn't a cemetery it's a public park
[quote][p][bold]woolywords[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]Izanears[/bold] wrote: Sorry Anthony but the council is right. Far too many graves these days look like a branch of TOYS R US. Remember your lost loved ones in your heart and mind. Leaving dead flowers, soggy teddy bears, and other grimy paraphernalia is a sign of disrespect, rather than respect for someone's memory.[/p][/quote]Don't get out much, do you? Just as I can tell by your comment, that you've never been to Highgate Cemetery, in London. Where your eyes will be filled with mausoleums, catafalque, crypts and obelisks, with a cornucopia of pedimentia that is just completely bizarre. Those Victorians and Edwardians didn't just mourn their dead, they raised them to near Gods, in their grief. Compare that to the flat, featureless landscape that is a burial ground for Muslim women, where there is nothing to mark their ever being here, let alone died! Given your comment, I won't bother in making a suggestion that the council turn out a few sheep into the cemetery, as used to happen in my village churchyard, to keep the grass down. Or even, go so far as to suggest that goats be kept, with them being sold to local butchers, to make a little money towards it's upkeep. It is only in the latter part of the last century, that there has been this obsession with the way that graveyards appear in the larger towns and cities, where some of us, from the countryside, are a little more relaxed about it.[/p][/quote]But it isn't a cemetery it's a public park Rover since 1947
  • Score: 21

2:40pm Thu 6 Feb 14

AnthonyUK says...

If the council said that to me, I'd just tell em to tear the tree down!
If the council said that to me, I'd just tell em to tear the tree down! AnthonyUK
  • Score: -24

5:16pm Thu 6 Feb 14

sen c b l says...

AnthonyUK wrote:
If the council said that to me, I'd just tell em to tear the tree down!
Once again with this post and previous comments, you're a sad 845-trd.
[quote][p][bold]AnthonyUK[/bold] wrote: If the council said that to me, I'd just tell em to tear the tree down![/p][/quote]Once again with this post and previous comments, you're a sad 845-trd. sen c b l
  • Score: 9

6:03pm Thu 6 Feb 14

Trout67 says...

There would of been no issue had the content of the letter been a little more sensitive, bearing in mind it's a memorial garden and everyone who has a tree has done it in memoriam for someone not just a baby but an adult that was close to someone's heart. And as also stated the family didn't leave the cars it was others passing through the park. A little bit more decoram from the council acknowledging the family's grief but explaining the issues about ground maintenance in a more understanding way. Instead of the normal churned out insensitive letters that large organisations send out. Maybe suggest planting some bulbs round the trees that will flower at different times would be better .
There would of been no issue had the content of the letter been a little more sensitive, bearing in mind it's a memorial garden and everyone who has a tree has done it in memoriam for someone not just a baby but an adult that was close to someone's heart. And as also stated the family didn't leave the cars it was others passing through the park. A little bit more decoram from the council acknowledging the family's grief but explaining the issues about ground maintenance in a more understanding way. Instead of the normal churned out insensitive letters that large organisations send out. Maybe suggest planting some bulbs round the trees that will flower at different times would be better . Trout67
  • Score: -5

6:51pm Thu 6 Feb 14

mrcool says...

It's already been stated by the council that it is health and safety law and regulations that are behind this decision. Mr Roberts, being a police officer, should understand and accept this more than most. Just as we have to accept that when he and his colleagues pull us over for petty things and "have a word", they are doing it because of the "law and regulations". Move on, nothing to see here, officer.
It's already been stated by the council that it is health and safety law and regulations that are behind this decision. Mr Roberts, being a police officer, should understand and accept this more than most. Just as we have to accept that when he and his colleagues pull us over for petty things and "have a word", they are doing it because of the "law and regulations". Move on, nothing to see here, officer. mrcool
  • Score: 13

7:07pm Thu 6 Feb 14

mrcool says...

Is it wise to print the address/street of where a serving police officer lives?
Is it wise to print the address/street of where a serving police officer lives? mrcool
  • Score: 7

7:15pm Thu 6 Feb 14

summer baby says...

as sad as this is the council have a point and rules and regulations to follow. It can not be 1 rule for 1 and another for another! At the end of the day the council have allowed them to plant the tree as a memorial, graves are the place for toys etc not a public park.
as sad as this is the council have a point and rules and regulations to follow. It can not be 1 rule for 1 and another for another! At the end of the day the council have allowed them to plant the tree as a memorial, graves are the place for toys etc not a public park. summer baby
  • Score: 15

7:18pm Thu 6 Feb 14

POW WOW says...

Silly childish Council jobsworths with nothing better to do !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Silly childish Council jobsworths with nothing better to do !!!!!!!!!!!!!! POW WOW
  • Score: -4

11:41pm Thu 6 Feb 14

ribvanrey says...

I get the impression that a lot of comments are from people who read the Headlines and dash straight to the Comments section to have a good stir. Many appear to not even read the details of the story. Their chance to make their mark is their main purpose in visiting the "paper". Not reading it.
I get the impression that a lot of comments are from people who read the Headlines and dash straight to the Comments section to have a good stir. Many appear to not even read the details of the story. Their chance to make their mark is their main purpose in visiting the "paper". Not reading it. ribvanrey
  • Score: 5

12:00am Fri 7 Feb 14

useyourhead says...

Buy some land, tend it yourselves.... job done.
Buy some land, tend it yourselves.... job done. useyourhead
  • Score: -1

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