Plans to remove memorial benches at a crematorium have been branded “totally insensitive”.

Benches at Hendon Crematorium, in Holders Hill Road, will be put into storage for 12 months unless the owners come forward to claim them.

Barnet Borough Council says those which appear to be abandoned or breach health and safety regulations will be destroyed.

The authority has now admitted that when many of the benches were bought, documents “did not clarify” whose responsibility it was to maintain their upkeep if no lease was taken out.

When the Times Series questioned how much removing or destroying the benches would cost the taxpayer, it could not provide a figure.

In a statement, it said: “We are making improvements to the cemetery grounds so that more people n have memorials.

“In order to do this we need to make to some changes to the layout, including removing or storing benches  in areas where there is no lease in place.

“Benches that are in a poor state and unsafe to use will not be stored, but we are keeping records and the associated memorial plaques.”

Many benches in the area appear to be well-loved, adorned with plaques, ornaments and flowers commemorating their loved ones who have passed.

But they now sit next to official posters warning the owners to claim their bench so the area can be used for “further memorialisation”.

The statement added: “It is not our intention to cause distress with these notices, and we apologise to anyone who has been upset by this.

“We will discuss options with owners on what to do with their bench. We have issued around 60 notices and received one complaint, which we are seeking to resolve with the owner.”

Although the signs appeared on the benches in January, and are due to be removed by May 21, the council says the decision pre-dates Capita.

But many fear the three month notice period is an inadequate amount of time as mourners often visit the cemetery once a year on anniversaries or birthdays.

Roger Tichborne, whose parents, in laws, and grandparents are all buried in the crematorium, called the news “upsetting”.

He told the Times Series: “I think it’s disgusting – totally insensitive. People put those benches in because they love someone and want to remember them in a nice way.

“It will be horrible for them to turn up and find their benches are gone, especially those who don’t live in Barnet and missed all the press coverage.

“People have paid for these benches in good faith. We understand they won’t last forever, but surely there’s a reasonable expectation the council will look after the benches and cemetery.”

To claim a bench, call 020 8359 3370.