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North-east cemetery groups highlighted amid memorial justice calls

By David Porter

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The Scottish government is “open” to considering tougher justice for desecrating war memorials, following a spate of crimes described as “particularly distressing” in Holyrood last night.

Community safety minister Ash Denham heard calls from Scottish Conservative MSPs to create a specific criminal offence for vandalising memorials.

This followed a petition from the friends of Dennistoun War Memorial, urging the Scottish Government to create a distinct offence in line with England, where the maximum penalty is increasing from three months to 10 years in prison.

Alexander Burnett backed Meghan Gallagher’s calls to bring forward stronger legislation to protect memorials.

And he underlined the work of community groups like Friends of Ellon Cemetery, formed to tend graves and memorials due to budget cuts to local authorities.

Scottish Conservative Mr Burnett said he visited all 50 memorials in his Aberdeenshire West constituency in 2018, to mark the centennial of the First World War’s end.

And he was “very disheartened” at some states of repair.

Grass was left after cutting
Grass was left after cutting

He added: “Cemeteries themselves fall under local authorities and obviously Covid restrictions had impacted on landscape service teams.

“But normal service has far from been resumed following cuts to their budget

“So communities had started to take matters into their own hands, including the Friends of Ellon Cemetery started by Councillor Gillian Owen after seeing the success of Friends of Turriff Cemetery.

“But if budget cuts were not bad enough, just today I read that the Friends of Ellon, appalled at discovering graves of loved ones covered in cut grass, have now been banned from clearing the mess themselves due to health and safety rules – unless they get special training.

“One can’t help but think, what those remembered by such graves, would make of how we define risk today.”

SNP minister Ms Denham said that memorial desecration is a “particularly distressing crime”.

She added: “We are open to considering this matter further and whether it would be appropriate to consider introducing additional legislation in order to protect war memorials.”

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