Renfrewshire Council has ‘banned’ the chairperson of the Friends of Hawkhead Cemetery from directly contacting council officials.

The campaign group claims a top council official says they have taken the decision because Desmond Barr has been campaigning too much for improvements to the cemetery.

One of the founding members of Friends of Hawkhead, he has also been told in an email from the council’s Head of Operations and Service Development, Gavin Hutton that officials Desmond contacts directly will no longer respond to his enquiries about moss and weeds on paths at Hawkhead Cemetery and the grass-cutting schedule. No response will be sent on council policy on their inspection of headstones and the headstones being laid flat on the ground by council staff and equipment trials at the cemetery.

The email from Gavin Hutton says he was “directing” Des to refrain from copying-in officers in any future correspondence and instead should send emails to a generic council mailbox.

Initially, Desmond was told by Gavin Hutton that he couldn’t appeal his ban from contacting council officials. But after contacting the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Des received an email from another council official, Service Co-ordination Officer, Kirsty Wright saying that he could appeal.

An appeal was lodged, but Director of Environment and Infrastructure, Gordon McNeil upheld the decision to ban Des. And when Des contacted the council’s Chief Executive, Alan Russell, he also backed the ban.

Martin McLister, from Friends of Hawkhead said: “Des Barr has campaigned tirelessly for improvements to the cemetery on behalf of families who have loved ones buried at Hawkhead. And he has had some measure of success for his efforts.

“However, there are still several important issues unresolved regarding the state of Hawkhead Cemetery and Des is quite right to continue campaigning for further improvements on our behalf.

“Des is our nominated spokesperson and is the person who should contact the council on behalf of the group.

“This attack on Des is an attack on all the members of this group in the hope that we will be silenced.

“The council officials might not like that we are campaigning for improvements to Hawkhead Cemetery, but trying to silence Des won’t stop us continuing to call for these much-needed improvements.”

Desmond Barr said: “I am fully committed to the campaign to improve Hawkhead Cemetery for all the families of those who are buried there.

“The council will say I have sent them too many emails, but this is because on many occasions the replies I received either didn’t answer the questions we were asking, or they lead to even more queries from the group.

“If the council would only do what is right and keep the cemetery in a proper state of maintenance and repair, then I wouldn’t need to be sending emails to the council.”

A Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: “We have invested significantly in improvements at Hawkhead Cemetery and work hard to maintain all Renfrewshire cemeteries, so they remain welcoming places for people to remember their loved ones.

“We are happy to consider feedback from any individuals or groups on how best to do this and these can be raised through our official channels to be considered fully.”

Headline image:  Desmond Barr
Photo Credit: Friends of Hawkhead

By Ricky Kelly

Main writer for Renfrewshire News

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