Families were shocked to discover their relatives' headstones lying flat at a cemetery this week.

Visitors to Gorleston Cemetery first spotted the sea of flattened headstones last weekend and feared it may have been an act of vandalism.

But it later emerged the work had been completed by Great Yarmouth Borough Council following a health and safety assessment.

Great Yarmouth Mercury: An eyewitness described seeing 30-40 headstones removed from the groundAn eyewitness described seeing 30-40 headstones removed from the ground (Image: Supplied)

Barbara Saunders' grandparents have been buried at the cemetery since 1959 and she visits them frequently to lay flowers and tidy up their grave.

When she tried to visit them on Wednesday, she was shocked to see their stone - and around 30 to 40 others - lying down on the ground.

"My mum goes up every week, always has it really properly cleaned and makes sure it's spotless," her son, Lee Saunders, said.

"If there had been anything wrong with the headstone she would have known, but there wasn't."

Great Yarmouth Mercury: Lee Saunders' great-grandparents' grave was one of those affectedLee Saunders' great-grandparents' grave was one of those affected (Image: Supplied)

He added he had asked a gardener why they had not been informed in advance and was told letters would have been sent to those connected to the graves.

He was then told his family grave was still registered to his great-grandfather, who had been buried decades before.

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They say they were advised it would cost £85 to get the name changed over to his mother for her to receive any future communications.

"The grave had flowers and it had been cut and weeded - it was clearly being visited," Mr Saunders said. "We don't understand why they couldn't just put a letter on the headstone or something."

Great Yarmouth Mercury: A Great Yarmouth Borough Council spokesman said the headstones were movable by hand and were laid down for safetyA Great Yarmouth Borough Council spokesman said the headstones were movable by hand and were laid down for safety (Image: Supplied)

A spokesman for Great Yarmouth Borough Council said it was obligatory for all local authorities to carry out safety inspections of memorials in cemeteries.

He said: ‘’When this work is carried out, the council works hard to ensure owners are involved at every stage of the process because we know how precious the memorials are to families and loved ones.

‘’Notices are posted in the cemetery on noticeboards to alert people to the inspections. If the inspection shows a memorial is potentially unsafe, owners are contacted by letter and advised on how to make the headstone safe.

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‘’However, in some instances the council has no way of contacting an owner. In these cases, notices are attached to the memorials asking visitors to contact the council to discuss making the headstone safe.

‘’In a limited number of cases, extremely heavy memorials were found to be moveable by hand. With public safety in mind, it was necessary to carefully lay these memorials flat to the ground.

"Moveable headstones have caused injuries in the past and safety of cemetery visitors is of paramount importance.

‘’The council continues to make every effort to contact owners of unsafe memorials and would urge anyone affected to contact us so we can advise the steps necessary to reinstate the memorials safely.

‘‘The thoughts and wishes of loved ones are our priority and we always carry out any necessary work sensitively and, wherever possible, with the involvement of families.’’