A member of the Facebook group ‘The Canny Folk of South Shields’ recently posted a picture of the benches, at Lawe Top, South Shields, enquiring about the “tat” which adorned them.
Joanne Wilde, the aunt of Glen Cunningham – who died in May 2012 after battling a rare form of cancer, and who has a bench at the site – says she was left devastated by the words and the way the issue escalated.
Glen, a father-of-two, passed away aged just 29, despite a donation of £33,500 to buy a life-prolonging drug which wasn’t available on the NHS
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Paul Allan, who runs the internet group has confirmed the member has now left the group, and he apologised to the family.
Mrs Wilde, from Harton, South Shields, said: “I just don’t know why someone would be so mean and feel the need to do this. These benches are a place for us to go. We have all paid money to have our loved one’s names on them and it’s a place of comfort for many.
“To call the items left “tat” is cruel.”
The post was then removed from the group – but then reappeared a few days later.
Mrs Wilde then received a private message, saying a picture of the benches had once again been posted.
It read: “Just to let you know I have re-posted that photo of the benches covered in tat.”
Mrs Wilde has ignored the private messages and visited her nephew’s bench yesterday – which would have been his 33rd birthday.
She said: “It’s ridiculous that someone took so much time and effort to upset us.”
Mr Allan said: “I have been running the group for a while now and we do have our ups and downs, but nothing like this has ever happened before on the site.
“The Canny Folk are normally a large group who like to reminisce about Shields over the years. We do get the odd person who causes a problem but they are usually banned straight away.
“I can only apologise to the lady and her family and assure her this will never happen again on this site.”
South Tyneside Council, which provides the benches, has said it will soon be working with bereaved families to develop a protocol for memorials and tributes across the borough.
A spokesman said: “We know that loved ones will occasionally place flowers or tributes on the seat and, while we appreciate it is an extremely sensitive and emotive issue, we ask that mementoes do not obstruct the safe use of the seat for other users. We also ask that bench sponsors remove decaying flowers and old mementos in a timely fashion.
“We are about to start working with bereaved families and considering best practice from around the country as we develop a protocol for memorials and tributes across the borough. This would also include producing guidance for bereaved families on memorials in our open spaces and by the roadside, to ensure they are managed in a safe way by the families involved.”