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Southwark Council calls us liars, denies grave excavation plans

09 January 2016

Today, Southwark Council denied that their plans for the Camberwell Cemeteries involve the excavation or mounding over of thousands of public and private graves.

Their official twitter account described Save Southwark Woods’ claims that the Council want to dig up the dead as “false”:

“@DrogbasNo1Fan @tracbere Good morning. These are false claims about our plans for the cemetery. We are not excavating graves.”

Southwark Council Leader Peter John, awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List, went further: “Shameful scaremongering by an increasingly dishonest campaign”.

Yesterday, Cllr Darren Merrill, in charge of Environment and the Public Realm and since September 2014, Southwark’s cemetery strategy, was quoted in the South London Press as saying:

“Sadly, the SSW campaigners seem intent on misleading residents with false claims about our plans for the cemetery. The facts are we are not excavating graves nor are we clearing over 10 acres of woodland.”

But this is plainly untrue. The Council’s cemetery strategy was agreed in 2012. Today, Southwark’s website still describes its main purpose:

“The council’s cemetery strategy prioritises the re-use and reclamation of public and private graves (the law states that any grave older than 75 years can be re-used for burial).”

And in a live interview on BBC London Radio just before Christmas, when Cllr Merrill was asked if cutting down woods in the Cemeteries was just biding time to get to ‘re-use’, he replied “yes”.

In truth, ‘re-use’ is excavating a grave laid to rest in perpetuity, digging up the remains, removing the headstone, and then leasing the plot to a new occupant. Re-use is a euphemism for the removal of people’s graves.

“Southwark have called us liars – again.” said Blanche Cameron, spokesperson for SSW. “But their own cemetery strategy says they plan to dig up or mound over thousands of graves for ‘re-use’. We are talking about their whole cemetery strategy across both the Camberwell Cemeteries – not just the first phase to cut down hundreds of trees in so-called ‘Area Z’ in the Old Cemetery and ‘D1’ on One Tree Hill in Camberwell New.

“This is clearly a very touchy subject – both for Southwark Council and all the families involved. It’s awful to think how many people with family buried to rest in peace in these Cemeteries might be completely unaware of the Council’s intentions.

“This is why we are asking people to contact us and the Diocese of Southwark and about relatives and friends buried in these Cemeteries. The Council seems to be in denial.

“Peter John and Darren Merrill need to stop right now, respect the dead buried there and look at the better, fairer options for burial that other Councils are choosing.“

Save Southwark Woods is campaigning to stop Southwark Council from cutting down the trees and desecrating the graves of the Camberwell Cemeteries, and declare them Nature Reserves.

Blanche Cameron

Save Southwark Woods

If you have famiy or friends buried in the Camberwell Cemeteries, please contact us at:

Old graves to be excavated, remains removed, tombstones and headtones disposed of, at Camberwell New Cemetery
Above: Old graves to be excavated, remains removed, tombstones and headtones disposed of, at Camberwell New Cemetery