CHURCH leaders have said sorry after families’ precious tributes were cleared away from their loved ones’ graves.

Churches have been told to clear personal items from graves and memorials under a ruling from the Diocese of Chelmsford.

Ian Wiley, 48, of Wickham Bishops, said a tribute left on his brother Andrew’s grave was taken at St Peter’s Church in Great Totham.

In a letter to the Rev Sue Godsmark, Mr Wiley said: “My brother’s memorial has sat in the new section of the churchyard for 30 years.

“It was the first memorial there following consecration of the land – a ceremony I witnessed as a teenager.

“Throughout those 30 years a small pair of porcelain shoes sat on his plaque.

“The shoes he bought were for my mother for Mother’s Day – two days before his death at the age of 17 – and are of understandable significant sentimental value.

“I have to confess I am not a religious person, but symbolism is a significant tool in remembrance, something your religion leverages more than most.

“I find this deeply hypocritical. I fully recognise this is not a decision you are accountable for and value the contribution of the volunteers involved in the upkeep of the church yard, what is done is done but I’m finding it really hard to contain my anger and sadness and I don’t really know where to vent.

“I can only ask that your share our views with the relevant decision-makers.”

In response, Rev Godsmark said: “I’m extremely sorry that this has been such a painful experience for you and please don’t apologise for venting your feelings.

“This has been a painful time for all of us.

“I will ask all those who work in or visit the churchyard to keep an eye open for this item that was obviously of great personal significance to you.

“It was, of course, not our intention that any of these things should have been lost or damaged which is why the request to remove them was made well in advance.

“Out of respect for those who are buried in our church yard, we struggle to keep it tidy and well cared and peaceful in a religious and spiritual sense and the regulations help us to make this provision for everyone.

“I hope you will still find the churchyard a place of peace and eternal rest for your brother.”

Churchwardens also apologised for not giving enough notice on the church’s website.

A spokesman said: “We are very sorry for the hurt and upset that has been caused by wishing to return the church yard to a peaceful state that can be easily maintained by the volunteers who kindly mow and keep it tidy.

“The state of the church yard is a directive from the diocese and is checked every five years.

“It is most unfortunate that, in the recent past, clear information was not given at the time of request for a burial.

“This will be put right for the future.”