A woman and her family have been left distraught after tributes left on her late sister’s grave were cleared away.

Twenty years worth of memorabilia, including stuffed toys, wind chimes, and placards, were cleared from the site in the children’s woodland area at Sutton Road Crematorium and Cemetery, which is run by Southend Council.

Sophie Goddard, 22, of Albion Road, Westcliff, visited the cemetery with her family to visit the grave of her sister, Jodie, who passed away as a baby, for what would have been her 20th birthday, on Sunday.

However, the family were shocked to discover that decades worth of trinkets and memorabilia, even a hand-made fence around the perimeter of the plot, had been removed by site staff.

Ms Goddard said: “Whether it’s a child or an elderly person, no family should have to visit the grave of their loved one and find their memories literally swept away.

“This has devastated my mum, who has said that seeing the memorial empty was like losing her daughter twice.”

Signs had been erected around the children’s woodland area by Southend Council, informing visitors that ‘unauthorised memorabilia’ would be cleared and made available for collection to families in order to retain the ‘sombre area of remembrance.”

However, complaints have been raised about the lack of compassion shown by the clearances, with families begin forced to collect belongings in numbered boxes.

Ms Goddard said: “If we, as many families do, remember our family member with decorations and memorabilia, then that is our choice. My parents paid for the plot, and now they are being told that they can’t grieve in the way they have for 20 years? I think that is so wrong.

“Some of the plots have been there for thirty or forty years, and I hate to think that an older person who can only visit their child’s grave once a year might go and discover all those personal items missing.”

The family have since set up a petition entitled ‘demand human rights to grieve our children’ on www.thepetitionsite.com.

Councillor Andrew Moring, executive councillor of corporate and community support at Southend Council said: “Letters were sent to families with officially adopted memorials in November 2017, and notices have been displayed ever since by the memorabilia, so that anyone who hasn’t had official adopted memorials or left their contact details, could be made aware.

“Please be assured, we are not removing any plots. The greatest care has been taken since this work was began on 8th May 2018. We have started to remove all the informal memorabilia that has badly deteriorated and has not been visited for years.

"We took photos of all the sites and numbered them. We are carefully removing the items, boxing them up and are putting a photo on the box so they can be easily recognised. They will be stored for up to six months for collection by the parents.

“We appreciate that many families want to have memorials by their plots, and we offer a range of official adopted memorials, details of which are available at the cemetery office.

“The council is responsible for the area, but has been working closely with Essex Sands to find ways of creating a more pleasant and appropriate environment for the baby and child memorial area.”