Village divided over headstone clash

VILLAGERS packed out a hall to discuss a proposal for a photograph on a headstone which has 'divided' the parish.

VILLAGERS packed out a hall to discuss a proposal for a photograph on a headstone which has 'divided' the parish.Churchill Parish Council has refused permission for a picture of stillborn Billy Winter to appear on a headstone, saying it would be out of keeping with the parish cemetery.Billy's family has been campaigning for the council to reverse the decision as it feels councillors made the decision after only seeing a sketch of the headstone at a meeting in January.Villagers supporting both the family and the council attended the annual parish meeting to discuss the issue.Councillor Barry Gwilt, who is now campaigning against the council's decision, said: "The previous rules for the graveyard only made reference to writing on the grave and there was no mention of not allowing photographs. "The rules were changed after the decision on Billy's headstone was made."But in the parish cemetery 70 per cent of the headstones are larger than the rules allow."Council clerk Lindsay Ireland told the Mercury: "The rules were not changed, they were applied."The rules for St John's churchyard state photographs are not allowed and, because of the parish cemetery's proximity to St John's, it has always been thought of as the same."This was the first time the council had been asked to consider a photograph on a headstone."At the meeting Billy's grandmother, Janet Blannin, said: "We are a peace loving family and keep ourselves to ourselves. Billy was a baby, not a foetus, and never in our wildest dreams did we imagine anybody could be offended by him."I wish we'd decided to cremate him as we love our baby and we don't want to leave him in a cold, hard graveyard with black headstones."Winter family members said posters they had put up in the village advertising the meeting were taken down.Resident Robert Stell said: "I took them down because it was illegal flyposting and, as soon as the posters go up again, I shall take them down again."Everyone has the greatest sympathy for the family but this has gone on long enough."Resident Ian Woodbury said at the meeting: "This has divided the community and driven a wedge in the village. "I really think this decision should be reviewed by an independent person. What are people going to think of the council if this baby has to be exhumed? The two sides are entrenched but there has to be some sort of mediation on this. This shouldn't tear the community apart."Clerk Lindsay Ireland added: "The council would like this matter resolved and there is a possibility an independent mediator could be appointed to look at all the evidence."But Billy's uncle, Peter Blannin, told the Mercury: "We were told by the local policeman that it was okay to put posters up prior to the meeting."We have carried out a petition in the village and have gathered around 500 signatures supporting us and we can get more."Out of the people we've asked in the village, 97 per cent support us.