CLAIMS that contractors were paid bonuses for the number of headstones they toppled in Peebles Cemetery have been rubbished.

More than 700 headstones were deemed unsafe and 'made safe' by inspectors during an inspection earlier this year.

The process has sparked upset and anger in the town with the community council expressing concern regarding contractor Memsafe’s “overzealous” approach.

Former Chairman of Peebles Community Council Lawrie Hayworth, branded the damage to headstones as “vandalism” during a discussion about the cemetery following the remedial work in March.

But Scottish Borders Council denies damage was caused to the headstones by contractors.

Addressing members of the town’s community council, Councillor Shona Haslam said: “We all had a meeting with officers at the cemetery and they explained the process by which they test.

"There were a couple of headstones that we asked questions about and they were going to get in touch with Memsafe to come back and give us an update on them.

“Anybody with any concerns, and have before and after pictures of the headstones that were tested and made safe, should let us know.

"What we felt as councillors is that given that we had to do the test, given that we had to do the test in a certain way, it had been done in the best possible way that was available to the council given the legislation that was governing us.”

Community Councillor Peter Maudsley asked if the contractor was paid per headstone taken down.

He said: “One of the things that interested me is how the contract with the contractor arranged.

"Are they paid by the number of stones that they have to take action with? Because if that is the case, then there will be a tendency to hit more headstones than they might otherwise have done.”

Councillor Haslam said this was one of the questions asked by elected members to council officers.

She explained: “It is based on the number that they test, so there is no bonus for them with the number they take down.”

Members of the community council still feel there is unhappiness within the town over the current state of the cemetery and are considering putting in an application to the Common Good Fund for memorial restorations.

Chairman Les Turnbull said: “I’m wondering if there is anything as a community council we can do to try and help improve the look of the cemetery, and perhaps affect some sort of repair on some of the stones that have been taken down.”

Councillor Haslam replied: “We were informed by officers that if the community council provide funds to enable the headstones to be fixed then the community council would therefore accept liability in the future should those headstones fall onto somebody.”

Peebles Community Trust is now seeking the views of locals regarding remedial work in the cemetery.

Community councillor and Chairman of the PCT, Lawrie Hayworth added: “As part of that clearly we would need to look at the legislative and insurance implications in discussion with our councillors.”

Councillor Stuart Bell said: “I think it’s important that we take proper procedures in regard to rectifying the difficulties and particularly the anxieties in relationship to the headstone testing programme that’s been on-going.

“One of the things that was brought to our attention when we went around the older part of the cemetery is the number of gravestones that have been set against the wall, because this process of testing headstones and putting to one side those that are in danger of falling over has been going on for many years.”