UP to 6,000 gravestones could be laid flat in Stockton as part of a safety inspection programme.

New Health and Safety Executive guidelines require Stockton Borough Council to inspect all 25,000 cemetery and churchyard memorials. A quarter are thought to be unsafe

The action is being taken because of nationwide concerns for public safety in cemeteries after a falling headstone caused the death of a six-year-old boy in Harrogate seven years ago.

There was an outcry when 350 gravestones in Middlesbrough were laid flat in 2005, after failing a safety test. Relatives were not informed, although repairs were carried out without charge.

Stockton council said laying stones flat was a last resort, but would sometimes be unavoidable.

It will try to inform relatives whenever practical before the repair is carried out, either by letter or a note on the gravestone.

As part of the five-year improvement plan, the installation of security cameras in graveyards is also being considered, following its success in Durham Road cemetery.

Other plans include tackling the issues of burial space, planting that deters vandals and adopting a green approach to the maintenance of cemeteries.