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.”