Grieving mum given three weeks to remove toys from her son’s grave

A grieving mum has called for an end to "heartless" cemetery rules after a council gave her three weeks to remove toys from her son's grave.

Natalie Reeves, whose two-year-old son James Manning died more than two years ago, received a letter from the council telling her she had to remove all but two toys from the toddler's memorial.

James' grave is currently adorned with his favourite toys including Peppa Pig, Thomas the Tank Engine and a football, which he loved playing with during his life.

But Battle Town Council, which manages Battle cemetery in East Sussex where James is buried, has now written to Natalie giving her three weeks to clear most of the items or face having them removed.

The council defended its position by citing members of the public who visit the cemetery seeking peace and quiet amidst its wildflowers and butterflies.

Natalie, a 35-year-old care worker, has launched an online petition to rally support, which she hopes will pressure the council into revoking their decision.

Natalie said: "To be enforcing these rules, they clearly don't understand what it's like to lose your only son.

"This is heartless and senseless to me as a mum who visits her only child every day and makes sure he is well-kept.

"It's a parent's unimaginable nightmare to have to bury or cremate their child.

"It is important for families to have a place to tend to or visit whenever they wish, with as little regulations as possible."

James, from Battle, died in June 2018 after choking on a piece of sausage at Butlins in Bognor Regis.

Before lockdown Natalie received a letter from the council telling her to remove as many toys as possible due to regulations.

She contacted her local MP Huw Merriman, and heard nothing more until last Wednesday when she received another letter from the council.

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It stated that the toys would be removed and taken to the council office for her to collect if Natalie did not remove them herself.

Natalie said: "They are being petty and too by-the-book. There's no compassion.

"As long as it's tidy and within reason there shouldn't be rules on what you place on your child's grave. It's hard enough to lose a child as it is."

Natalie paid extra money for James to be buried at Battle cemetery because he attended playgroups in the town.

But she now wishes she had chosen a different cemetery to avoid the hurt and upset.

The council cited safety concerns to justify their regulations.

But Natalie said that the council only maintains the grass up to two metres from the grave, leaving loved ones to cut the grass next to the gravestone.

Natalie added that council members had approached the cemetery's grounds lady asking her to enforce the rules.

The bereaved mother said: "The grounds lady said 'no way. If you want to enforce that rule, you can do it.

"She has no issue with it. She said it looks nice and like a child's grave."

Natalie said having toys around the grave is important to her and insisted the items were special to James.

At his grave, Natalie said there is currently a wreath of fake flowers, small football, a little London bus, a Peppa Pig car, Thomas The Tank engine, a rubber duck, bubble-blowing wand and two angels on the headstone.

She added: "They're all items he either touched or liked. It's not like I just bought them from a shop and placed them there. He loved football. He was buried in a football kit."

At Christmas and anniversaries the council loosens their restrictions on what can be placed on the graves.

But Natalie says this shows a misunderstanding of the grieving process.

She said: "It's not just Christmas and birthdays. They don't understand that every day is a hard day."

Natalie works nights at a care home support worker and visits the grave everyday in the morning to lay flowers and keep it orderly.

She said that it would be too upsetting for her to remove the toys and hopes the council will change its decision before the three-week deadline.

The care worker is now hoping her petition will help other families struggling with similar rules at other cemeteries.

Glenna Favell, Battle Town Council's chairman, said: "Battle Town Council is very proud of its beautiful and tranquil cemetery, which is visited not only by the bereaved, but also by people who enjoy the wildflowers, butterflies, the tree walk, etc, and those seeking peace and quiet."

The chairman said councillors decided the children's cemetery would be enclosed by a low hedge to demonstrate their wish to "surround the children with loving care."

She added: "The cemetery regulations are in place to ensure that the cemetery retains its dignified character and to also protect our staff from injury.

"However, the council is also sensitive regarding families wishing to mark a special anniversary by temporarily placing additional items at that time."

The chairman also added that regulations have recently changed to allow two toys, to accommodate separate families.

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