SAFETY checks are being made in a district's disused churchyards to ensure headstones pose no danger to the public.

Relatives of the deceased in nine churchyards across Easington, County Durham, have been warned of plans for the forthcoming annual inspection.

The district council is responsible for maintaining burial grounds, with a duty to ensure stones are stable and offer no risk to passers-by.

Environmental health and licensing manager Keith Parkinson said such actions had come under the council's responsibility in recent years.

"These new safety checks have come about as a result of a number of very sad accidents in which young children were killed after gravestones fell on top of them.

"The council does not wish a similar accident to happen here, so we are complying with the national standard for testing headstones.

"We obviously realise it's a sensitive issue with relations and that's why we want to inform everyone that these tests are to take place on an annual basis."

Systematic checks will be made of every headstone by trained officers using a load-bearing device.

Any headstone failing the test will be laid flat, either onto or alongside the grave.

"This is done in a respectful manner with the inscription uppermost, wherever possible. A reputable, qualified stonemason is employed, or, in some cases, the council's own operatives use specialised lifting equipment."

The nine churchyards to be checked are at St Andrew's, Dalton-le-Dale; St Mary's, in Easington Village, Horden and Monk Hesleden; Holy Trinity, at Murton; St John's, at Seaham Harbour; St Saviour's, at Shotton Colliery; St Bartholomew's, at Thornley and St Paul's, at Trimdon Station.

Anyone with concerns can ring Stuart Clasper, at the council offices, on 0191-527 0501, extension 2216.