Ombudsman to investigate moving of Tuckers Town tombstones
Government Ombudsman Arlene Brock is to launch an investigation into how alterations were made to a historic burial site that was supposedly protected by strict Planning orders.
Last week campaigners protested that tombstones at the Tucker's Town graveyard had been removed, ahead of plans to build a new cemetery memorial on the site.
The plan had been submitted by the property's owners, the Marsden First United Methodist Church. However, the ground is the final resting place of countless enslaved blacks and free blacks who owned and worked the area more than 200 years ago. It is already marked as a Historic Preservation Area under the Bermuda Plan 2008 and in addition, the cemetery is designated as a site of archaeological significance.
And last year Ms Brock recommended that the graveyard be designated a Historic Building "to add status and an extra layer of protection".
In a statement issued last night, Ms Brock pointed out that Government responded to her recommendation last May, saying it would take the necessary steps to ensure that status was granted.
"As of June 2012, there could be no doubt — in the understanding of the Government, the owners and the public — that the Government had agreed to commence the administrative process required to list the graveyard as a s. 30 Listed Building," Ms Brock said.
"To be clear, I did not recommend that the Government begin a process that might eventually result in listing. Rather, I recommended that the grave site be listed. The Government did not reject this recommendation. S. 30 of the DPA allows for the Minister to list immediately and then complete the administrative process, including consultation, within 90 days.
"Late last summer I informally asked a senior Planning officer whether this recommendation was being implemented and was assured that it would be. Generally, my formal follow-up for the large systemic reports is one year after tabling — in recognition of the fact that time, policy changes and even legislation may be needed to give effect to some recommendations.
"Since then, members of the public have expressed concerns about the condition of the tombstones and we have now received a formal complaint alleging that the Ministry and/or Department of Planning may have acquiesced in unauthorised alterations to the graveyard and have not consulted all relevant interests.
"Accordingly, I will conduct an investigation into: this complaint; the delay in implementing my recommendation; and, related questions."
In a letter to Planning officials earlier this month Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda (CURB) complained: "The Marsden Church graveyard is one of the last remnants of the black community that was driven out of Tuckers Town in the 1920s by a Land Appropriation Act introduced by the Bermuda Government.
"In another 60 years when most people that knew something about the old Tuckers Town are dead, theyll allow the area to overgrow again, and quietly remove the memorial, clean the area up and no one will be the wiser.
CURB co-chairman Lynne Winfield earlier told The Royal Gazette: "We understand that prior to the tombstones being destroyed permission should have been sought from the Department of Planning as the site is designated as a Historic Protection Area and the Historic Buildings Advisory Committee should have been consulted. We understand this did not happen."
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