GRIEVING West End parents have been lamenting the ‘heartbreaking and thoughtless desecration’ of their baby’s grave.
As if visiting the remains of a loved one, especially a child, isn’t traumatic enough, Martine and Ioannis (known as Yanni) Bourtsouklis Cray were devastated when they visited their son Alex’s grave at Holy Trinity Church on the anniversary of his death.
Always at the forefront of the family’s mind, Alex has been resting in peace at the village church since 2007, along with some touching, heartfelt momentos from his parents and siblings to comfort his spirit and keep his memory alive.
Yanni said: “On the sixth anniversary of his death, my wife visited Alex’s grave, only to find it had been desecrated. All the little things we had placed there with love from us and our two other children had been removed.
Even a tiny olive tree I had planted six years ago to symbolise my son’s Greek heritage, had gone.
“I have never been so upset. I called the vicar to inform him of this atrocity only to be told that the graveyard had been ‘cleaned up’ by volunteers following the rules of the diocese. They are stripping all graves of ornaments, flower pots and keepsakes. There are quite a number of children buried there.
“Rev Andy Armitt said all ‘decorations’ had been kept in a safe place for relatives, so I said I’d meet him to collect what was Alex’s.”
When Yanni and Martine, who have lived in West End for seven years, went to the cemetery to take home their son’s keepsakes, they said the vicar was next to a rubbish heap. The couple asked where Alex’s momentos were and apparently he pointed at a trolley next to the rubbish and said ‘They have been taken’.
Yanni added: “We were both distraught that someone could do such a thing to a baby’s grave. When I asked the vicar why, all he did was say ‘I didn’t do it!’
“All this could have been avoided if only they had let us know and given us warning, but when I asked why we had not been contacted in advance, his answer was a blunt ‘They put up signs!’ and he pointed to a few inconspicuous A5 bits of paper.
“A lot of people who go to the cemetery are elderly with very weak eyesight, like my 80-year-old neighbour who regularly visits her husband’s grave, and she didn’t see any.”
Slight relief came later that day when Yanni spotted one of Alex’s momentos. He explain-ed: “I was walking past a front garden near the church and saw the set of three porcelain mushroom bells. The house owners had salvaged them ‘from the rubbish heap’ as they thought them too pretty to be thrown away.”
It transpired the rescuers had lost a grandchild a week after Alex died and were worried their grave would also be ‘cleaned up’.
Yanni and Martine are grateful for residents’ support, as he said: “I feel lucky and immensely privileged that so many people have reached out to offer their support and comfort. And he found something else.
He said: “I stopped at Alex’s grave to say hello and, as I touched the ground I discovered a tiny rocking horse that had been decorating the olive tree.
“These are the only two keepsakes left from Alex’s grave. Everything else, including a yellow flower pot from my eldest child, a little angel, chimes and a solar lantern that signified the eternal light of God, have all gone.”
True to his Christian beliefs, Yanni said: “My faith is stronger than ever, but I feel numb about the careless actions involved. In my eyes, this behaviour does not demonstrate the Christian ethos of love, respect, compassion and consideration for others.”
Yanni recently started a petition in the hope of changing what he believes is an unfair ruling. He wants to allow others, like them, to have the freedom to commemorate their loved ones’ final resting place as they wish.
Church of England, Winchester & Guildford Dioceses’ communications officer, Nick Edmonds, said: “We are very mindful of a need for families to create fitting tributes when loved ones are lost, particularly in the tragic case of a child.
“Churchyards are subject to national church regulations to ensure memorials are in keeping with the character of a church. These were introduced in 1964, and last amended in 1981.
“We understand such regulations are not always paramount to people during times of loss. However, it is the legal responsibility of church officers to ensure they are upheld.
“Unfortunately, despite notices having been displayed, items on graves that contravened regulations were moved by the church officers.
“Churches do not maintain contact information for families of those buried in the grounds, so it is very unfortunate. We are trying to work with the family concerned to reconcile this situation, and our prayers are firmly with them during this difficult, sensitive time.
“We are considering how regulations can be better communicated to families at the time memorials are planned.”
On Monday Yanni’s petition online and off had received 139 signatures. Log on to chn.ge/1aIFtW2 to have your say.