A group of people with loved ones buried in an Ayrshire cemetery say they have been forced to go through the grieving process “all over again” amid plans to exhume bodies from waterlogged graves.
The move comes after bodies were found “floating in water” near the cemetery earlier this year leading to an investigation being launched.
The probe found that an entire area had been flooded, leaving more than 100 graves potentially damaged.
In response South Ayrshire Council issued a letter asking family members to decide if they wanted the bodies to be temporarily removed from their graves to a specialist facility at Prestwick Airport before being returned in a standard coffin, or kept in their grave as the water is drained.
A deadline of May 18 was originally given, just one week after the letter was received, but more than 1000 people signed a petition urging the local authority to extend it and think again about how they handle the situation.
The group who launched the petition are asking for brand new coffins of their choice, the opportunity for their loved ones to be reburied in fresh/dry clothes and to be able to put personal items in with them in case the last ones have been damaged.
Families are also asking for the chance to to attend a reburial and say their final goodbyes once their loved ones are “resting at peace”.
A member of the group behind the petition, John Paul Burns, says his family have been left with “visions” of his recently passed father’s body floating in water and accused the council of “incompetence”.
He told STV News: “We are grieving families who just want to have peace of mind that our loved ones are resting in peace.
“We want our loved one’s remains dealt with in a dignified manner and people to hold themselves accountable for letting something like this happen.
“From the start of this situation, South Ayrshire Council has displayed nothing short of total incompetence, disorganisation and quite frankly absolutely no empathy whatsoever.
“Apart from the fact that people had to find out that their loved ones’ remains would be floating in water, they have taken no accountability in their actions.”
Mr Burns said the root of the problem was identified the concrete vaults the bodies were buried in were leaking with water, due to the product they were promised by contractors “not being up to scratch”.
He said: “They have not divulged whether they undertook any initial quality control, evaluation or surveying before implementing these concrete vaults – instead, they let them be used.
“Fast forward to the current situation – the leaking vaults (initially dismissed as rumours) have substantial flooding.
“Among other things, families have been told that their loved ones would ‘dry out’ after exhumation and have been made to feel powerless in this situation.
“Their recent solution was to exhume people from their graves, dry them out at a specialist facility in Prestwick Airport then rebury them in a standard coffin.
“This is problematic for several reasons: they gave us one week to make a decision, imagine having to decide whether to dig your loved one up in one week?, and not everyone was buried in standard coffins.
“The mementos put in coffins are likely destroyed and irretrievable now, too.
“The worst thing is, it’s put the grieving process on hold for a lot of people.
“My sister and I lost my dad very suddenly and unexpectedly – he was only 58. Now, we have visions of his body floating in water in whatever stage of decomposition it might be.
“Even when it rains, you get anxiety just thinking of the vault filling up even more. Nobody should have to go through this – it’s absolutely disgusting.
“We want accountability and a reasonable, efficient solution to this problem.”
South Ayrshire Council said it is doing “everything we can” to carry out the work, now set to begin on June 13, as “quickly and respectfully as possible”.
A spokesman for the local authority said: “We know that this has been an extremely distressing time for families and lair owners and we are currently holding face to face meetings to discuss the proposed plan of works and to answer any questions they may have.
“We are doing everything we can to carry out the works as quickly and respectfully as possible.”
“Work at Ayr Cemetery extension is set to start around June 13.
“We fully appreciate that this has been an extremely distressing time for lair holders and their families and we will continue to liaise with them directly throughout.”
The council also confirmed that a second cemetery in Ayrshire is facing a similar issue.
An extension of Troon cemetery has also been waterlogged and the same process will begin there as soon as work in Ayr is complete.
South Ayrshire council continued: “Unfortunately we anticipate that the chambers in Troon cemetery extension will have similar issues to those at Ayr therefore the works on Troon cemetery extension will follow the same process as Ayr and are due to commence when the works in Ayr are complete.”
A statement issued on behalf of the group as part of the Change.Org petition says: “We have made this petition for everyone to hopefully sign and help us get closure and make our loved ones comfortable in there safe place at last.
“Signing this petition we would be hoping for brand new coffins (ones of our choice) Our loved ones to be given the opportunity of fresh/dry clothes on them, also for us to be able to put some more personal things in with them in case the last ones were damaged.
“We wouldn’t have to see them, just knowing we’ve placed something special in with them again will make us feel at ease.
“Also if families wanted they can attend a reburial to say there final goodbyes now that there loved ones are resting at peace.”
You can sign the petition here.