Shoreham mum starts petition to keep disabled daughter’s grave ‘beautiful’

Luke Harley, Sheldon Colwell, Cody Presley, Fiona Presley and Elvis Presley at Kelly Colwell's grave
Luke Harley, Sheldon Colwell, Cody Presley, Fiona Presley and Elvis Presley at Kelly Colwell's grave

A bereaved mother has been told she must clear away the lights, flowers and momentos laid by her disabled daughter’s ‘princessy’ grave – which would leave just an empty space.

Fiona Presley buried her 26-year-old daughter Kelly Colwell, who had been brain damaged by epilepsy, in section B of Mill Lane Cemetery in July.

It’s been a year from hell and this is the final straw

Bereaved mother Fiona Presley

Fiona, her four children and her husband Elvis have found comfort in creating a ‘beautiful’ grave for Kelly.

“It’s the only thing we can do for my daughter now,” she said.

Her son Cody, aged 12, leaves tokens like a can of coke, which Kelly loved, or an Argos catalogue, which she would never go anywhere without – ‘silly things, but they help you feel a bit closer’, said Fiona.

But on Friday, June 9, after almost a year, the family were ‘shocked’ to receive a council letter that said the area was for lawn graves only and the kerb area should be removed.

“I don’t see what the issue is,” said Fiona, who lives in Parklands, Shoreham.

“It’s been ok for the last year – what’s the problem now?”

She said the family, who had little time to arrange a plot as Kelly died just two weeks after falling ill with pneumonia, had ‘no idea’ the area was a lawn site.

“I’d never done this before,” the 47-year-old said. “You don’t expect to bury your child.”

Other graves in the section have kerbs or decorations, so Fiona said the family never questioned whether they were permitted.

The situation has caused great stress for Fiona, who was diagnosed with breast cancer just weeks after losing her daughter and has recently undergone chemotherapy.

“It’s been a year from hell and this is the final straw,” she said.

Fiona has started a petition calling on the council to reverse the decision to make the area a lawn section, which reached almost 400 signatures after less than 24 hours and now has more than 600.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Herald reported that a bereaved grandmother had been refused permission to put a kerb on her husband’s grave, also in section B of the cemetery.

A spokesperson from Adur District Council said: “We understand how sensitive this issue is and our sympathies are, of course, with the families concerned.”

Section B of the cemetery is designated as a lawn grave section and for the last 16 years nothing other than traditional headstones have been approved in the area ‘to preserve the feel and tone of a traditional lawn grave cemetery’, according to the spokesperson.

Funeral Directors are aware of this and it is ‘clearly conveyed’ in the cemetery’s rules and regulations, added the spokesperson.

There are 314 graves in the section and maintenance of the lawn grave section can be difficult if uniformity is not observed, the spokesperson said.

“We periodically write to those families who have placed temporary memorials without permission asking them to remove them but, we try to do so in a respectful and tactful way.

“We clearly apologise for any upset caused in this process,” the spokesperson said, adding that other sections in the cemetery do allow for memorials other than headstones.