Plan to dig up historic cemetery for Muslim graveyard angers Londoners

November 14th, 2007 - 2:07 am ICT by admin  
The authorities here are considering digging up the graveyard, where 350,000 souls are said to be resting in peace, and reopen it as a 21st century burial site.

The planned site would be officially known as a “multi-faith” cemetery, but it is likely that it would principally answer calls for a Muslim graveyard in the largely-Asian East London borough, the Daily Mail reported.

However, the idea has not gone down well with the locals, who have bombarded newspapers with letters expressing their reservation over the plan, saying “There is no way we’ll allow them to dig up our ancestors.”

The liaison officer at the cemetery, Ken Greenway– the only paid member of staff tending the 33-acre site– said he was astonished that anyone would even contemplate such a move.

“I’m against it and I have to stand up for that because of the huge value of this site today,” Greenway was quoted as saying.

“It’s a beautiful haven for wildlife and people,” he added.

Initially, the Labour-controlled council was insisting there were no plans to re-open the park as a cemetery.

“It is a popular and historic nature park, and if there were any proposals to alter the look or the functionality, there would be a full consultation with interested parties,” said a spokesman.

Though the council admitted it had been looking at “options” for burial sites, and Lib Dem group leader Stephanie Eaton said she had received a letter from the council chief executive admitting the park was one of the options being considered.

Meanwhile, council’s environment spokesman Abdal Ullah sounded confident about the feasibility of the plan, saying: “To preserve the respect and dignity for everyone, I think most of the graves would have to be cleared out and we’d start afresh.”

Even Ullah said that a corner of the cemetery would be reserved for Muslims who are buried in shrouds at a depth of 6ft and on their side facing Mecca.

The City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery was opened in 1841 by an Act of Parliament. And, by law, any grave more than 75-year-old can be removed.

During the Second World War it was bombed five times and some headstones still bear the marks of shrapnel hits.

Other markers have gone altogether, torn down when the graveyard was deconsecrated as a Church of England cemetery by another Act of Parliament in 1966 when it was deemed to be full.

In 1986, ownership passed from the Greater London Council to Tower Hamlets and in 1990, the Friends of the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park was set up.

In 2000, the park became the borough’s first nature reserve. At present, it is home to 27 species of butterfly, a rare bumblebee, woodpeckers, sparrowhawks and the elusive firecrest.

About 8,000 schoolchildren visit every year for outdoor nature lessons. (ANI)

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