5:00am Friday 11th July 2014
By Emma Walker
A GRIEVING mum is facing a hefty bill to replace her late daughter’s memorial bench after it was destroyed by vandals.
Portland couple Michele and Andy Johnson tragically lost their 14-year-old daughter Jess in 2006.
The youngster, who suffered with a heart condition, collapsed at a friend’s house and was dead on arrival at Dorset County Hospital.
In a bid to help the grieving family remember their ‘fantastic’ teenager, Andy’s former work colleagues chipped in for a bench to be installed overlooking Chesil Beach.
Sadly, vandals destroyed the memorial bench last month and it was removed by council workers due to ‘safety reasons’.
Jess’s mum Michele has hit out at the borough council for sending her a bill worth more than £745 in order to replace the bench with a new one.
She claims that not only did the council fail to inform the couple that the bench was going to be removed, but also failed to post the letter to their home address.
Instead, the letter was found on her husband’s desk at work in a hand-written envelope.
The letter, sent by borough council parks supervisor Tara Gooding, said: “It is with regret that I must inform you that the seat donated in memory of Jess Johnson has been rather badly vandalised and has been removed for safety reasons.
“Should you wish to consider donating a new seat in the same location the cost will be £745 plus VAT.”
Michele told the Echo: “I am in absolute shock and disgust that we are being asked to pay for what vandals have done to Jess’s memorial bench.
“The pain of losing my daughter hasn’t gotten any easier and the bench was in a place she used to hang out with her friends. It’s all we had to remember her by.
“We haven’t got that kind of money and even if we did I don’t see why we should foot the bill.”
The 50-year-old, who lives on High Street, added: “I was taking my husband down to show him the damage but the bench had gone and we hadn’t even been told. And then they didn’t even post the letter out properly. It’s disgusting.”
Kate Ryan, director of communities at Weymouth and Portland Borough Council, said: “We are extremely saddened and disappointed to find that someone has badly vandalised a memorial bench and obviously this has caused undue distress to friends and relatives.
“Sadly the bench is beyond repair and we had no alternative but to remove it for safety reasons.
“Unfortunately vandalism does happen from time to time and the borough council would want to see this bench reinstalled.
“However, as we make people aware when buying a bench the ongoing responsibility for replacing broken or worn out benches rests with the family.
“We would ask that anyone with any information about this incident contacts the police and hope that those responsible would find it in their conscience to come forward and pay for a new bench to make amends for their actions.”
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