FAMILIES of Sunderland’s war dead demanded an apology after council workers left poppy wreaths dumped in the corner of a park just hours before D-Day.
The wreaths, along with wooden crosses, taken from Mowbray Park’s War Memorial, were left outside a council gardening depot along with grass and hedge cuttings close to the Toward Road entrance.
Parents walking to the nearby play area were shocked to see the poppy wreaths left upside down on the ground.
While council bosses today said the poppies had only been removed temporarily to a council depot to allow for regular maintenance work, others have criticised the lack of respect shown during the clean-up.
Janice Murray, mum of Private Michael Tench, who died at the age of 18 in Iraq in 2007 while serving in The Light Infantry, said she had been left disgusted at the way the wreaths had been treated.
Private Tench’s name is among those listed on the war memorial wall at the park.
She said: “This is total disrespect. I’m absolutely furious and sickened.
“Even if workers are cleaning the area, they should have been courteous of the wreaths and crosses.
“Not even a child would heap them in with the waste.
“People travel far and wide to lay wreaths and crosses in the sacred area next to our memorial wall.
“They may be gone but should still be treated with dignity and respect.
“There should be a huge apology from whoever has done this. As for cleaning this area, it should be passed on to people that have respect for our fallen.
“Shame on the people or person responsible for this, I’m totally disgusted.”
Pictures of the scattered poppies were also posted across Facebook.
One comment said: “To see this makes me fume and cry at the same time.”
Another stated: “Surely they could have stored them in a more respectful way.”
Graham Hall, chairman of Sunderland’s Armed Forces Network, said: “I was contacted by a member of one of the families who had lost their son in a recent conflict.
“I went down to the Cenotaph to find many of the wreaths had been moved and later found them in the gardening staff yard.
“After returning yesterday morning, it has been explained to me that many of the wreaths had been removed because of the poor condition that they were in and those suitable were to be returned to the memorial.
“Unfortunately, they were stored outside in public view which may have given the impression of them being put with the waste.
“A lot of the wooden crosses which are made of balsa wood were rotten with all the personal details erased. It is normal throughout the year to remove wreaths that have suffered due to severe weather. Some wreaths have been returned but the badly damaged ones have been removed.
“Some personal photos were recovered from the wreaths by the park staff and I will be returning them to the families.
“It is unfortunate that the wreaths were left outside, as opposed to being stored inside which normally happens during this process, which may have seen to be disrespectful.
“But after talking to the staff and seeing those wreaths which were beyond repair, I’m convinced that the staff acted with the best intentions in wishing the memorial to be in the best condition for D-Day.
“I have spoken to the parks management and I will be working with them to adopt a new removal protocol so there is not a reoccurrence of this situation.
“In my opinion, there was no malice or disrespect intended and the staff have apologised and asked me to convey those apologies to the families and the armed forces community should any offence or upset have been caused.”
Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland city, said: “Poppy wreaths were temporarily removed from Burdon Road War Memorial to allow regular maintenance work.
“We are in regular contact with families and veterans groups concerned throughout the removal, storage and reinstatement of wreaths.”