THE graves of five people, including two children, will be exhumed at All Saints' Churchyard, Freshwater, following a rare ruling by a Church of England judge.

The decision was made after a badgers' sett near the graves collapsed, following persistent heavy rain during October.

The five plots include the cremated remains of two people who died around a decade ago and the bodies of three people buried in the 1980s.

They will be relocated elsewhere in the cemetery.

The churchyard covers over four acres and has been maintained as a wildlife-friendly area.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Portsmouth said: "There is a badgers' sett close to the boundary of the churchyard. The sett has been maintained under licence, and is protected under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.

"During October, heavy and persistent rain caused the partial collapse of the sett, which affected some of the nearby graves in the churchyard.

"It was not possible to repair the graves to their original condition. The parish therefore asked for permission to exhume the remains from five graves and to re-inter them in another location in the churchyard.

"That permission was granted by the Chancellor, Judge Philip Waller, the ultimate diocesan legal authority.

"In each case, the written consent of the family of the deceased person was asked for and obtained. We understand this episode is likely to have been extremely distressing for those families.

"We hope the exhumation and re-burial can take place before Christmas. The parish is committed to ensuring this takes place with due reverence and dignity, in the presence of a priest.

"The families concerned will also be given the chance to be present, if they wish. We will ensure that, in each case, the resting places and memorials are restored to their rightful condition."

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