‘King of Sheffield’ memorial built without permission, council says

A row has reportedly broken out between a bereaved family and a council after a 37-tonne marble memorial to a former bare-knuckle boxer featuring a solar-powered jukebox was erected in a cemetery in Sheffield.

Sheffield City council said the family of Willy Collins, who died aged 49 in July 2020 after collapsing while on holiday in Majorca, did not seek permission to build the tribute, according to the Sheffield Star.

But the family of Collins, known to many as “Big Willy” Collins and the “King of Sheffield”, have disputed this claim and insist they had permission for the monument, which is adorned with four Irish flags and flanked by two lifesize statues of the late boxer.

It also features images of Jesus Christ and biblical scenes, while the jukebox plays Collins’ favourite tracks.

One of 16 children, Collins is said to have had nine children and about 400 nieces and nephews. He reportedly moved to Sheffield from Ireland as a child in 1980 and brought up his own family in the city.

Councillor Alison Teal, executive member for sustainable neighbourhoods, wellbeing, parks and leisure, told the Sheffield Star: “All plans for grave memorials should be submitted to the council and must receive approval from bereavement services before they are erected.

“For submissions, applicants must provide several details, including the material and size of the memorial, the proposed inscription and a sketch. A memorial should be less than 75mm thick and no taller than 1.35m from ground level.

“We are aware of a large memorial which has been erected in Shiregreen cemetery. This memorial was built without permission and we are currently considering our next steps.

“Cemeteries are a place where people can come, pay their respects and visit loved ones who are no longer with us. We understand memorials are deeply personal, however we must have rules in place to ensure fairness.”

But Collins’ widow, Kathleen Collins, disagreed. She told the newspaper: “We own the land and we do have planning permission. The council haven’t contacted me or anyone from the family to raise any concerns. If they do have any issue with it they should contact us directly.”

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