A widower has instructed his undertaker to exhume his wife's ashes in protest at the state of his local cemetery after lockdown.

Grieving John Payne, 73, is furious at the unkempt nature of the site with long grass submerging many of the graves.

Mr Payne said he took great comfort in visiting several times a week to be close to his wife Janet, who died in August last year.

She had a heart attack at the age of 72, just four months after the couple celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.

But he says his grief has been compounded by his local council's refusal to cut the grass in the area around her headstone where her ashes are interred.

And he says the situation has got so bad he has been left with no other option but to instruct his undertakers to begin the process of exhuming her ashes.

Cheltenham Borough Council says it has been doing its best but has had fewer staff available to do the work due to the coronavirus.

Grieving John Payne, 73, is furious at the unkempt nature of his local cemetery in Cheltenham, with long grass submerging many of the graves
Grieving John Payne, 73, is furious at the unkempt nature of his local cemetery in Cheltenham, with long grass submerging many of the graves

Mr Payne said: "Last August my wife died and her ashes were interred in Cheltenham cemetery.

"The cemetery is in an appalling state.

"Clearly they don't have the staff to maintain the grass, there's no doubt about that, but the matter is made worse by the position of the gravestones.

"They're in rows, but they're dog legged which makes them harder to look after.

"I've come to the conclusion that my wife's grave is in the wrong place and it's very distressing, I'm not prepared to leave her there.

"My undertakers have therefore been instructed to start the process to get her ashes exhumed.

"That may sound extreme but it is important for me to do the best thing for her."

The council says it is bringing in extra staff to work with the grounds team.

Widower John Payne has instructed his undertaker to exhume his wife's ashes in protest at the state of his local cemetery
Widower John Payne has instructed his undertaker to exhume his wife's ashes in protest at the state of his local cemetery

Mr Payne, of Cheltenham, who is also a councillor, said that the grass at the grave was so long he could hardly see it and he had to cut it himself.

He added: "Some of it I recognise has been down to a staff shortage due to Covid-19 but the council now say they are going to consider drafting in some temporary staff.

"My contention is that the cemetery's state is not directly related to Covid-19, although it's a contributing factor.

"The cemetery was neglected for a long time, because of lockdown I've not visited but now it's eased I've been back and I could hardly see my wife's grave because it's surrounded by long grass.

"I had to take my strimmer down to clear the grass away."

Widower John Payne says the state of his local cemetery is so bad he has been left with no other option but to instruct his undertakers to begin the process of exhuming his wife's ashes
Widower John Payne says the state of his local cemetery is so bad he has been left with no other option but to instruct his undertakers to begin the process of exhuming his wife's ashes

Councillor Chris Coleman, Cheltenham Borough Council cabinet member for clean and green environment, said: “Our priority has been to keep offering cremations as safely as possible during this difficult time for bereaved families. We understand that some may view part of the grounds with longer grass as untidy.

“However, due to the COVID-19 situation we have had to re-prioritise our services and maintenance schedule, particularly as around half of our staff had to be sent home to isolate. The majority of the remaining staff are having to work in the crematorium to help with funerals.

“We are working on the grounds but this is taking much longer as you would expect with a minimal team. We will shortly be seeking temporary labour to support the grounds team.

“Rest assured, we are working on the issue and are making improvements as fast as we can. I would like to add a word of thanks to our team who have gone far above and beyond at an extraordinarily challenging time. The vast majority of residents are, I'm certain, very grateful for this.

“I would also respectfully ask visitors to the cemetery and crematorium to continue to follow all social distancing measures.”