A bereaved mum is raging after church volunteers removed “irreplaceable” tributes from her stillborn baby’s grave – because they did not “reflect” the Christian context.
Mum-of-three Charlotte Day, 26, says she is one of many people to have experienced heartache after treasured tributes were removed from graves without warning and not returned.
In 2014, Charlotte – who is a mum to sons Mayce and Caiden – lost her daughter Ruby, who is now buried at St Peter’s Church in Bredhurst, Kent.
The incident is the latest in a series of disputed moves by the church. In 2016 the relatives of loved ones buried in the graveyard were told they had to remove items because they contravened church rules.
Two years later, the church escalated matters in an attempt to receive backing from a Church of England judge.
Charlotte said: “Their actions are disgraceful.
“They have removed all items from my daughters grave, things that had been there since burial, and then destroyed them all, leaving me with no memories of when she first passed.”
She added: “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 on Ruby’s grave that they have destroyed. Some of the things were irreplaceable.”
Among the treasured items that Charlotte says have been taken include a small key ring from Florida with Ruby’s name on it and a little hippo which they said was barely visible.
Charlotte, of Rainham, Kent, added that items from other families’ graves have also been removed.
She said: “A pair of blue china baby shoes were removed from another child’s grave. They had been there for over 30 years.
“They have also removed poppies from graves and a small American flag that is continuously removed and destroyed when replaced for an American veteran of World War Two. His family are disgusted and outraged.”
Charlotte said that the grave of one of her family friends was also targeted.
She added: “He tragically died in an ice hockey accident and had his neat, presentable, respectful and tidy flowers removed.”
According to Charlotte, the church volunteers are now patrolling the graveyard on a daily basis, and have been doing so for many weeks.
She took pictures of several volunteers who she said are aged over 70 and were disregarding government social distancing advice by standing close to each other and leaving their homes during the lockdown.
In a statement, the diocese of Rochester, which oversees the church, said their decision to remove the items was difficult and deeply regrettable, but was done to ensure the churchyard remains peaceful and beautiful.
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.
They added: “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.”
In the statement, the spokesperson referred to a 2017 judgement by the Diocese judge allegedly allowing the parish to remove and dispose of any items which contravened the churchyard regulations.
They added: “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.”
The angry mum said the church agreed to leave babies’ graves untouched in 2016, but have since backtracked.
She said: “We appreciate the regulations, however a meeting was held in 2016 with the representative of the diocese of Rochester, the vicar and various other people. It was agreed that babies and children’s graves were left alone.”
Charlotte said the church stuck to their word until 2019 when items were again removed and destroyed.
The Diocese claims it wants to move the situation forward positively, but Charlotte disagrees.
She said: “They will not reach out for compromise.”
The bereaved mum said the church’s actions have severely affected her and her family, particularly during the coronavirus period.
She added: “This has caused prolonged grieving.
“My mum has been shielding for 14 weeks. The first time she went out was up to see Ruby and was left in shock and dismay by the site of the bare grave.”
Police have said that the taking of specified items was not a criminal matter.