Critical Threats to Cross Bones Graveyard

Cross Bones, once an “ingeniously concealed” little graveyard, is situated in a narrow street where I lived and played as a child. That is Redcross Way, Borough, Southwark, London, SE1. I only discovered it existed in 2011 and that it is owned by Transport for London which is chaired by London Mayor, Boris Johnson.  Archaeologists estimate that approx. 15,000 skeletal remains of local poor folk, and if I remember correctly mostly children, lie densely buried.

Various news items lead people to imagine that skeletal remains which were uncovered before works got under way for the extension to the Jubilee Line in the late 1990’s came as a surprise to archaeologists, and presumably the London Underground Limited, the land owner at that time.

What is certain is that Transport for London is aware that this particular property is a burial site, though the impression I get is that it has overlooked the fact that the whole of the site is legally protected by the Disused Burial Grounds Acts.  I deplore the word “disused” in this context as it implies that the land is empty of burials, but what is important and must be respected, is that the Acts deliberately protect those people buried there.  The law prevents TFL developing the site, including anyone who purchases what is reported to be surplus to TFL’s requirements.

Cross Bones graveyard, is one of many burial places, in and outside of London that the speculative builder sees no wrong in destroying for the health of profits. The Ministry of Justice and its predecessor, the Home Office, has facilitated  what I allege is the illegal destruction of historic burial grounds, and other places where burials have taken place within living memory by issuing legally invalid exhumation licences.  Section 25 of the Burial Act 1857, is the only Act under which a licence to exhume can be lawfully issued, but only for burial places that are regulated by the Act. Though the last burial at Cross Bones took place 161 years ago, and although the graves are not regulated by the Act, they are never the less, robustly protected under common law.  The first invalid licence I am aware of that was issued for Cross Bones was in 1992. In 2014, legally invalid licences were issued to TFL and Bankside Open Spaces Trust.

Bankside Open Spaces Trust, together with John Constable who leads the Friends of Cross Bones, has campaigned over a number of years to transform the graveyard into a garden of remembrance. A recent planning application made by the Trust, reveals that campaigners appear willing to accept a three year lease from TFL to transform only a small section of the southern part of the graveyard. Though in essence, I support the planning application, I maintain that all of those buried there, must be protected…thus all of the graveyard should be laid out as a garden.  I allege that Transport for London would be in breach of the Disused Burial Grounds Acts if it attempts to erect any building or buildings on remaining parts of its property. Details of my response to the planning application can be located here.

TFL claims to want to protect all of those buried in its property, yet makes obvious its intentions on its application for a licence that it intends to exhume 150 skeletal remains to erect a fence to facilitate plans for the garden.  It may have already carried out this action which is irrational. It likely is a breach of the Disused Burial Grounds Acts and the common law protection that all graves at Cross Bones have.

It had taken me a year to convince Southwark Council that it is the enforcement authority for disused burial grounds within its area. Southwark asserts that its enforcement powers are discretionary, but case law indicates otherwise. Lawyers for the Southwark prepared a “briefing note” (presumably about law) to circulate to some members of staff within the Council, but refused me sight of that note. Despite the principal of open government Southwark Council has been determined to hold its cards close to its chest. The Information Commissioner did not uphold my complaint about the refusal to reveal specific information, and details of its decision can be located here.

I am left with the impression that Southwark appears willing to turn a blind eye to law breaking.  The law is the law is the law. Members of the public are expected to respect the law, and so are public officials.

The Lord Brabazon alias Lord Meath, once chairman of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, which still exists today, championed for open spaces in the 19th Century.  Other prominent figures such as the social reformer Octavia Hill, treasurer of the Kyrle Society championed for open spaces to serve the public benefit. The Society ceased to exist long ago, but was responsible for the laying out of garden of another burial ground in Redcross Way, formerly used by Quakers. This is known to locals as Red Cross garden. More information can be located here. Brabazon said, “It is a well-known fact that the natives of South Africa or China would never think of disturbing the burial place of their ancestors”.

Referring to the Romans, author William Tegg said when writing ‘The Last Act: Being The Funeral Rites Of Nations & Individuals’, “There was an action for violating the tombs of the dead. The punishment was a fine, the loss of a hand, working in the mines and banishment or death”.

The penalty even now, could be an unlimited fine and/or unlimited term of imprisonment.  If enemies destroy graves during times of war they would be prosecuted for war crimes. That raises the question of why destroying graves during peace time is not vigorously prevented by law enforcement authorities including judges.

Judges had opportunities in 2011-2012 regarding the proposed destruction of the grave of a Roman Catholic Priest buried at Fawley Court, near Henley on Thames in 1964. That was part of an established pattern of illegally destroying graves created in living memory.  World War 2 veterans like the one pictured here fought for our courts to uphold the law, truth, justice and human rights. Graves in Halifax were completely destroyed with a JCB in 1993. Judges consciously avoided that same information when the Richard III case was put before the courts in 2013-2014.

All these legal matters are important in terms of protecting the graves of our friends and our families buried in public cemeteries and anywhere else. If we don’t deal with Cross Bones, and threats to other graves, all graves will soon become temporary.  That is already happening and it must be stopped now.  Do you want the graves of your friends and relatives to be destroyed?

Any “reasonable person” could suspect that Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Justice cum Lord Chancellor, has the power behind the scenes to manipulate the justice system in his own favour, when appearing before any court as a defendant. That also means a “reasonable person” could suspect that the judges are then placed in an untenable position. When having to decide whether or not the most senior justice minister is on the right side of the law, they would have conflicts of interest. Judges would know that the hand that feeds them is one which has already defied a fundamental principle of law. Chris Grayling was the only politician to be reminded by the courts of the “duty of candour” and he still defied that duty, in connection with the illegal destruction of graves.

This is dealt with in more detail in this letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and is one of the latest developments in trying to achieve full compliance with the law.

Teresa Evans, of www.evansaboveonline.co.uk

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