A HEADSTONE in a peaceful South Yorkshire churchyard, on the grave of a man who died 66 years ago, has become the focal point for a bitter family feud.
The dead man’s family’s behaviour has now been branded ‘disgraceful’ by a Church of England judge.
The judge at the church’s Consistory Court was called to decide what should be done in the graveside battle waged at the village of Kilnhurst near Rotherham.
The dead man’s original tombstone bore reference to his son, who was just two when his father died, and to his widow.
But in 2002 the family feud hotted up to such an extend the sister of the late Frederick Howitt had the original headstone removed, and replaced with a new one which bore no reference to Mr Howitt’s son, John, or his widow.
Now David McClean, Chancellor of the diocese of Sheffield, has given John Howitt permission to remove the headstone installed by his aunt in St Thomas’s churchyard at Kilnhurst, and replace it with a replica of the original.
His aunt has since died.
Chancellor McClean said: “The parties are divided by a family feud which has lasted for decades. The correspondence file contains material which reflects the feud, with allegations and counter-allegations of assault, theft, criminal damage and hate-mail. Some allegations are denied, others are admitted.
“The behaviour described is disgraceful, but mercifully little of it is directly relevant.”
The judge said John Howitt claimed his late aunt, Edith Marshall, had replaced the original 1946 headstone in 2002 with no mention of him or his late mother - and had told the vicar they were both dead.
However he claimed that, had he been consulted, his objection would have ‘stopped her evil scheme in its tracks’.
The new inscription read: ‘In Loving Memory Of A Dear Son And Brother Fred Howitt Passed Away 11th May 1946 Aged 28 Years Forever In Our Thoughts’.
Mr Howitt claimed the deed was a deliberate step to remove reference to himself and his late mother.
The judge said John ‘spoke movingly of the grave as his one link with the father of whom he had no memory’.
But he said it was not true Mrs Marshall had claimed to the vicar John was dead.
Granting permission for John to remove the second headstone and install a replica of the first - which has been destroyed - he said that was conditional on John first trying to secure agreement from the wider family as to the wording of the inscription, before seeking final approval in writing from the Court.