Graves destroyed by Bristol councillor in bizarre cemetery accident

April 9, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

A councillor apologised after demolishing six graves in a cemetery – by driving over them in her CAR.

Heartbroken relatives thought the burial plots at Mangotsfield Cemetery in Bristol had been vandalised on Easter Sunday.

But local politician Shirley Potts has now come forward to admit she accidentally mowed them down when her muddy foot slipped onto her brand new car’s accelerator.

The ”freak accident” –  which left some burial plots wide open – happened after the retired teacher had visited her son’s graveyard.

She has now apologised to the family involved and says she feels ”devastated” by the damage she caused.

Mrs Potts, 73, the Labour councillor for Staple Hill in South Gloucestershire, said: ”It was a completely freak accident – it was only a matter of yards.

”I’m so sorry it happened but there was nothing I could’ve done about it at all.

”There’s no dispute about who is to blame – it happened in seconds and it was so unfortunate.

”My heart went out because I had just visited my own son’s grave and I knew how I would have felt.”

The accident happened at around 2.30pm on Sunday after Mrs Potts had been to visit the grave of her son nearby.

She scraped the mud from her feet before getting into her brand new grey Hyundai i10, which has an automatic gearbox.

But just as she turned to pull away her foot slipped sideways from the accelerator and lodged under the brake.

As it slipped her heel clipped the accelerator, and as she tried to pull her foot free the car sped forwards and slammed into six graves belonging to members of the same family.

Relatives say they were not informed about the incident and immediately suspected vandals were responsible when they visited their loved one’s graves later that day.

Grieving Yvonne Orchard, 31, found her grandmother’s headstone had been completely destroyed and her brother’s grave lay gaping open.

She assumed vandals had ”deliberately” attacked the graves with a vehicle, as car parts littered the scene and tyre marks had scorched the grass

But Cllr Potts says she informed the relevant authorities and has spent the last few days trying to contact relatives.

She said: ”When I initially reported the accident they said don’t make any contact but I really wanted to write to her and apologise.

”I have contacted the officer who deals with the cemeteries and asked her to get Mrs Orchard’s permission to get her details so I can send a letter of apology.

”I made all the contacts I should with the emergency centre but it was Easter Sunday and there was no way I could have found Mrs Orchard’s contacts on the day.”

Mrs Orchard said the graves had been previously targeted by vandals and estimates the damage caused by Mrs Potts may cost more than £15,000 to repair.

But she said she is relieved to hear that the damage was caused by accident.

The communications manager from Bristol said: ”The council has told us that the lady concerned has admitted the accident.

”It would have been nice to receive an apology as I’m sure she didn’t do it deliberately but must have appreciated the distress it must have caused.

”It would just have been good to have an explanation of how it happened.

”However, I am very glad that she came forward and that she did not injure herself. We are certainly not angry with her and feel no animosity towards her.

”We are sure it was an accident and accidents happen. The fact that she came forward at all means we can now put our minds at rest that this was an accident and not mindless vandalism.

”At the end of the day we just want this horrible mess to go away.”

A spokesman for Avon and Somerset police yesterday confirmed that the person responsible for the damage had come forward.

Inspector Kevin Thatcher said: ”Officers have spoken to the person responsible and this matter is no longer being treated as criminal damage but as a collision.

”We have spoken to the woman whose family’s graves were damaged and updated her with the current state of our enquiries.”

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