A STONEMASON was ordered by the Consistory Court of the diocese of Sheffield to remove a headstone in the churchyard of St Alban’s, Wickersley, because it was substantially different from the memorial for which permission had been granted.
The headstone was erected in the churchyard in December 2016 at the grave of the mother and the sister of Mrs Bacon, the party opponent. Mrs Bacon’s mother died in 1974, and her grave had previously been marked by a memorial stone commemorating her life.
When Mrs Bacon’s sister died in June 2016, a standard application form for permission to install a new memorial was submitted on behalf of the bereaved family by a monumental mason, Brian Croft, of Beecroft Memorials. The incumbent, the Revd Peter Hughes, duly approved the memorial on the standard form on 25 October 2016.
The memorial which was installed in December 2016, however, was substantially different to that for which permission had been granted, both in detail and overall impact. It included several features which did not comply with the Chancellor’s churchyard rules, and the incumbent would not have permitted the memorial when exercising his delegated discretion under those rules.
The incumbent requested that it be removed, but Mrs Bacon did not agree. There were other memorials in the churchyard which did not comply with the rules, and that fact caused a degree of perturbation to Mrs Bacon. The Chancellor, Sarah L. Singleton QC, said, however, that the presence of other memorials that were not in accordance with the rules did not establish any precedent.
The incumbent and churchwardens petitioned the Consistory Court for a faculty for the removal of the memorial. The diocesan advisory committee agreed with the petitioners. The Chancellor said that, after her evaluation of the incontrovertible evidence, it was appropriate to order the removal of the memorial stone at Mr Croft’s expense.
Although the bereaved family had sought to argue that the memorial could remain, and perhaps be altered to render it more compliant with the churchyard rules, the Chancellor said that “such a solution was impractical and unattractive”, and the petitioners were opposed to it.
Although the bereaved family initially resisted the removal of the memorial, that position had not ultimately been maintained. The Consistory Court made Mr Croft a party to the proceedings, to enable it to consider whether he should be responsible for carrying out the removal of the memorial, and to decide whether he should be ordered to pay any of the legal costs.
Mr Croft suggested that some of the blame for what went wrong lay with the incumbent, and that he had explained the nature of the memorial in a conversation before the misleading application was submitted. The Chancellor said that, “whatever the nature of conversations between a stonemason and an incumbent, the written documents must be accurately completed,” and “the formal and the informal process must be synchronised.” The court relied on the written documents as the record of what had been approved and agreed, and should not be expected to go behind those documents.
Mr Croft was ordered to pay a contribution of £750 plus VAT to the costs of the diocesan registry, and a contribution of £500 plus VAT to Mrs Bacon’s costs. The Chancellor said that the purpose was not to punish Mr Croft, but to allocate to him a fair proportion of the liability for the legal costs of what had happened. It was intended that the diocesan registrar, who had had to undertake much more work on this matter than on a standard faculty, should be able to claim the balance of the costs he had incurred.
Monumental masons “must know that the rules will be enforced, and also that paperwork must be accurate,” the Chancellor said. Also, “The costs of putting matters right can and will fall upon them if the rules are ignored and applications are not accurately completed.”