Grieving Burnley mum's heartbreak after baby son's birthday tribute broken at memorial garden

A grieving young mum was heartbroken to discover a birthday tribute she had placed in a memorial garden for her baby son had been broken after it was moved.

Wednesday, 18th December 2019, 10:49 am
Updated Wednesday, 18th December 2019, 12:03 pm
Stephanie and Chris with Scarlett and James

And heartbreak turned to anger for Stephanie Heseltine-Hawke when she found out that the windchime she had lovingly placed for her son, Joseph Alexander, was among dozens of personal tributes and ornaments that had been moved by workers at the baby memorial garden in Burnley Cemetery as part of plans to improve the garden next year.

Stephanie claims that the tributes, including teddy bears and other personal items, had all been 'thrown' into the centre of the garden which she believes resulted in the breakage of the wind chime, which Stephanie had placed there to mark what would have been her son's second birthday. He died in November, 2017, at just 26 hours old.

Stephanie (26) said: "I couldn't believe it at first when I saw what they had done and when I realised the wind chime was broken it was so upsetting for me and my family.

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The baby memorial garden at Burnley Cemetery

"This is a place for parents and families to come and remember the children they have lost. That is heartbreaking enough in itself without being faced with seeing all the tributes removed from each of the individual memorials without a by your leave.

"We have been going there as a family for the past 25 months and no warnings or notices have been placed there during that time to say this was going to happen.

"And there was nothing put in writing about what we could and couldn't have when we purchased the memorial."

Stephanie claims that when she approached the cemetery office to ask why the memorials had been removed a member of staff told her that all of them would be removed permanently by January as nothing should be placed there.

Stephanie pictured with her son, Joseph Alexander, when he was born in November, 2017

Stephanie, who lives in the Brunshaw area, added: "This is absolutely devastating for our family and the many other families who this garden was created for. And for it to happen so close to Christmas just makes it even worse."

A Burnley Council spokesman said:"We apologise for the breakage of the windchime and if what we've done in good faith has caused any upset.

"We're very aware that this memorial garden means a lot to many people."

The spokesman added that the items were moved to the centre of the memorial for accessibility reasons for visitors who have mobility issues.

Stephanie was shocked to see all the personal memorials and tributes that had been placed in the centre of the garden

He also pointed out that in the light of Stephanie's complaint about the the items being 'thrown' into the centre the tributes have now been arranged more carefully.

The spokesman said: "No memorial items have been removed from the garden. We have moved items that were placed on the path and put them around the memorial in the centre of the garden in order to make the area accessible, especially for people in wheelchairs or who have mobility problems.

"We made sure that items were carefully placed around the centre circle in a sensitive manner.

"Next spring we're planning to replant and improve the memorial garden and to achieve this we will work with the Still Birth and Neonatal Death Society (SANDS) and will consult with families on any proposals before any work is done."

How the memorial garden looked after the tributes were re-arranged after Stephanie made a complaint about the items being moved.

Tucked away in a quiet spot in the cemetery the memorial garden was created over 20 years ago to help families cope with the loss of a newborn baby or stillbirth.

Families can purchase a brick engraved with the name of their child at a cost of £50 that is included in the circular shaped memorial set with a stone plinth in the centre bearing the motto 'To all our children, so dearly loved, so briefly known.'

Stephanie and her husband Chris heard about the garden through their bereavement midwife and, after their son's funeral, the couple decided to purchase a memorial stone in the garden. It has become a place for the family, including the couple's two other children, Scarlett (eight) and James, who is six, to remember Joseph.

Several families, including the Heseltine-Hawkes, have created their own memorial gardens at the side of the site, filled with personal items to remember their children by. These include toys, balloons, ornaments and other touching tributes including a tiny gnome Scarlett hand painted for her brother.

But now Stephanie fears the local authority may want to remove the gardens which she believes will have a devastating effect on her family and many others who seek solace there

Stephanie added: "Everyone keeps the gardens and the memorials neat and tidy, it is a place of solace for so many people and the council now want to take all that away.

"What a dreadful way to treat families who are grieving and still trying to come to terms with such a huge loss."