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Today, the Diocese of Southwark’s Consistory Court said it had no power to stop Southwark Council proceeding with works on consecrated land ahead of a hearing into those works.
Southwark Council has applied for permission to clear two acres of inner city woods to mound over 48,000 graves and clear woods and memorials on One Tree Hill, Camberwell Cemeteries,
More than 800 public objections triggered a Church Court hearing into the Council’s proposals. The hearing has still not been held with a date now set for the last week of September.
Meanwhile, Southwark Council has already cleared two acres of inner city woods and destroyed hundreds of grave memorials without Church permission and in the face of a huge public opposition.
At the preliminary hearing yesterday, Save Southwark Woods asked the Church Court to:
Stop Southwark Council from removing and destroying grave memorials until the hearing
Stop Southwark Council building a road over graves on One Tree Hill, or disturbing any graves, until the hearing.
Stop Southwark Council from cutting down any more trees until the hearing, including trees on historic One Tree Hill
Consistory Court Judge, Chancellor Philip Petchey, whose decides permission for work on ‘consecrated ground’ in the cemeteries, told the campaign he had “no power” to order Southwark Council to stop destroying woods, graves or memorials - even temporarily.
Surprisingly, he suggested SSW “you can ask the Council to stop, they are here right now”.
The Council unsurprisingly would not guarantee it.
Then Chancellor Petchey informed applicants including SSW that the Church Court had limited powers to debate objections to felling the woods.
Shockingly, Chancellor Petchey said if SSW asked the Court in the full hearing to stop the destruction of the woods, SSW may have to pay Southwark Council’s costs for “wasting” Church “Court” time.
You couldn’t make it up.
What is the Church “Court” hearing for, if the Judge cannot stop, even temporarily, the Council’s destruction on consecrated ground without permission? And might even award Council legal costs against the public for wanting to object to Southwark Council clearing acres of inner city woods?
The full hearing - to take up to five days - starts 26th September.
But what is the point of the Church Consistory Court hearing process?
Is it all a huge waste of time and money, rubber-stamping destruction of wood and graves by Southwark Council, ahead of the public hearing to decide whether to give permission for those works?
Is it to bankrupt a small community group fighting to defend the nature, graves and history of Britain’s cemeteries?
Is it to discourage the public from any further objections to digging up the dead in the Diocese? Their objections to be heard by the same Philip Petchey who in 2001 wrote “Exhumation Reconsidered”?
Save Southwark Woods is very grateful to our barrister Mr. Charles Streeten who is acting pro bono for us. We will be discussing where we go from here.
For now, perhaps we should cross Montague Close to Southwark Cathedral and pray for the dead, their families and those who love and need trees.
And we should pray for the Church of England, who seem to have lost their way.
Save the Heritage and Beauty of Britain's Cemeteries
Skull and bones in full view dug up by Southwark Council in Camberwell Old Cemetery 2008. Image courtesy of South London Press, read article here...
Above: Demonstrating against destruction of woods and graves outside Southwark Cathedral, before the Preliminary Church Consistory Court Hearing, Monday.
Below: London Live TV filming, and later interviewing Jan, Rose and Blanche