A Cambridge church criticised for removing a plastic headstone from a baby's grave has said it has suffered criminal damage and abuse as a result.
The black plastic headstone was removed from St Andrew's church in Cherry Hinton during maintenance of the church yard in October.
Other items that were removed from graves during the clearance on Monday (October 22), included garden gnomes, plaques and plastic flower arrangements.
As previously reported, these items were then placed in rubbish bags at the side of the Grade I listed church building for collection.
The decision lead to a wave of online criticism of the church, which told Cambridgeshire Live it was bound by churchyard laws outlined by the Diocese of Ely.
Now St Andrew's has hit back at its detractors in a public notice, which states the church has been "very reasonable and have been surprised by the hostility".
Written by Revd Karin Voth Harman, the notice says the church has received "abusive emails" and sustained "criminal damage" on a garden shed "which seemed to have been attacked by an angry person".
In response to such criticism, she defended the church's role in providing spiritual support in the community
She wrote: "We'd like to say how much we really do care about those who are grieving. We do all we can to give sensitive funeral, and bereavement care to the people of Cherry Hinton.
"Many people in this community have been supported by people from this church in their times of loss.
"This is part of our work we take very seriously."
She went on to emphasise the church were enforcing regulations outlined by the Church of England and relied upon volunteers to maintain the graveyard.
Cherry Hinton in the news
She noted that the "fashion" and "trend" for adorning graves was becoming a hazard for those helping to maintain the graveyard, and the church had received complaints about graveside trinkets, from "churchyard users who rightly expect it to be a place of peace and equality".
She added: "The increasing fashion to put fences around plots, or stone chips, which make mowing and strimming difficult, and to fill plots with objects which trap leaves and debris, for glass vases which break and injure those who are kneeling to weed – these trends need to be halted."
She said the work to remove unpermitted objects will continue in the New Year, when anything "not permitted by the churchyard rules may well be disposed of directly," and the church "reserved the right" to do so.
Diocesan guidelines are similar throughout England.
The Ely Diocese rules, which were revised in November 2017, set out the types of materials gravestones can be made of as well as what is written.
The guidelines state: "The regulations are strict and you should bear in mind that the Chancellor will have in mind that any epitaph…should honour the dead, comfort the living and inform posterity.
"They will be read long after the bereaved have themselves passed away. It is not the right place for a statement about how members of the family feel about the deceased'.
The rules around what can be left on a Church of England graves in Cambridgeshire include:
35. Trees and shrubs may be planted on or around a grave only with separate Faculty permission.
36. No artificial flowers may be placed in the churchyard except for Remembrance Day poppies and traditional Christmas wreaths, and these shall be removed within two months.
37. Wreaths and cut flowers must be removed as soon as they appear to be withered. Vases which are no longer in use must be removed.
38. No lighting, whether solar or otherwise, is permitted on or around the grave.
39. With the permission of the Minister, up to 3 toys or similar objects may be left at the place of burial or interment of cremated remains for a period of 12 months from the date of burial or interment but must be removed at the end of that period.
40. The PCC has authority to remove any artificial flowers, or other memorabilia which do not comply with these Regulations and which have not been authorised by Faculty.
For full details of the regulations click here for the church's guide.