A gravestone 'owner' is legally responsible for repairs and maintenance, but often the owner cannot be traced or is unwilling to undertake repairs. The council has a duty of care to visitors to the cemetery and to its employees, and so must consider the risk raised by insecure headstones.
From 2003, headstones were tested using a nationally recognised procedure involving the application of a 35kg test pressure. Headstones that failed the test were deemed to be unsafe. Initially the testing was done in Linthorpe Cemetery and 380 headstones were laid flat.
In September 2005, the council's Executive agreed a policy on re-instatement of loose and insecure headstones. From October, the council re-erected 200 memorials in Thorntree Roman Catholic Cemetery whilst a number of contractors were asked to tender for a further 2,500 memorials in cemeteries around Middlesbrough. Murray Memorials of Sunderland were appointed and from April 2006 to June 2007 re-erected headstones in various cemeteries as follows (approximate numbers):
- Thorntree Roman Catholic Cemetery - 460
- Thorntree Protestant and Muslim Cemetery - 490
- Acklam Cemetery - 1800
From January 2008, following a further tendering process, Borthwick Memorials of Hartlepool re-erected headstones (approximate numbers) in the remaining cemeteries:
- North Ormesby Cemetery - 100
- St Joseph's Cemetery, North Ormesby - 40
- Linthorpe Cemetery - 100
Since 2010 all headstones have been re-tested every 5 years with periodic revisions to the Policy on Loose and Insecure Headstones.