Craig Ellis reckons the Barton Upon Irwell Roman Catholic Graveyard – last used for burial in 1940 – is now vulnerable to ‘unscrupulous developers’ because it appears that no one owns it.
Under property law, someone who takes over unclaimed land and manages it for five years can effectively take ownership of it.
We reported a few weeks ago that Craig had written to the Pope over concerns that the freely-accessible graveyard was becoming a drugs and alcohol den.
After that, a mystery man called ‘Luke’ contracted a local company to restore the gates and put his own padlock on along with a ‘no trespassing’ sign.
Craig has since tried to find out who this person is by emailing an address on the sign – [email protected] from an organisation called Clean Co – and asked if people can visit graves in the cemetery and received a ‘no’ in an email. Luke has also launched a GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/HelpingUsToHelpYou to raise cash for the graveyard but has so far refused to reveal his own identity.
IT consultant Craig has responded by getting his own padlock and installing it on the gate but says he will unlock it for any member of the public needing to gain access.
The metal gate contractor, who does not want to be named, has told us that he met Luke at the gates on Peel Green Road about three weeks ago.
He fixed the hinges, painted the gates and put a padlock on, and was paid by bank transfer from a personal account.
The contactor said: “Luke told me he was intending to manage the land for five years and put in for a ‘reserve’ for the land.”
That news set alarm bells ringing for Craig, 52. He said: “I think the person who has placed the lock on the new gate has a ‘possible’ intention to block anyone from access under the pretension of ‘site maintenance’ then to claim squatters rights after a number of years, as per UK law as the site is not land registered.
“I think Salford city council should be made aware as it could be too late in the future if they leave the site as is.
“Also, you have to consider the public right to be updated and to be given access when needed to the graves.
“I think by placing my own lock on the gate it may force the hand of Mr Luke and Clean Co to come forward and be honest with the public regarding who they are, who are they acting for and what their intentions are.
“Once the public is made aware and given access rights when needed and there is no plan for them to claim squatters rights and Salford city council are happy with their plan then we can all progress happily.
“At this point, I’ll remove my own lock. I stress if the public need access I’ll remove my own lock for anyone, which is the opposite to what Luke has said to me via email who said: ‘Unfortunately access to the public is NOT permitted at this point in time as the land is currently undergoing maintenance until further notice’.”
Craig continued: “It’s possible he’s attempting to take control of the land with a view to developing it at a later stage, which I find quite alarming,” he said.
“I want the graveyard looked after and respected for what it is, a place where entire families and many priests are buried.”
And Craig stressed he bears Luke ‘no ill will’. “I just want him to be open and transparent about what his intentions with the graveyard are,” he said. “It could be that his motives are entirely laudable, but we need to know whether or not that is the case.”
Craig said he is also disappointed that although it’s been established that the graveyard is not owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salford, that they ‘do not seem to be interested in the issue’.
“All the people buried in there are Roman Catholics, some entire families, and many priests,” he said. “Surely, that should be a reason to get involved.”
The Diocese have so far refused to comment other than to say it does not own the graveyard.
We also contacted Luke by email and he responded with: “My name is Luke and I am a member of the Eccles community.
“I’m here maintaining the land at Barton Upon Irwell Cemetery after a long time being left. It would be greatly appreciated if any donations can be made, whether it be money, spare tools, a removals van, bin bags, a helping hand, a skip or anything else you think would help us make Eccles a better place.”
He said in his email he would contact us ‘after the Easter holidays’ but so far has not done so.
The 30 metre by 30 metre cemetery was formerly owned by the de Trafford family, who were big landowners around Peel Green for hundreds of years.
But when the family offloaded the burial ground to the Catholic church in the 19th century, the necessary paperwork for ownership to be secured was never completed, meaning the graveyard is now owned by no one.