A child is believed to have taken home human bones last month, sparking fresh calls for action to protect thousands of bodies in an abandoned cemetery.

Police were called to Horton Cemetery, off Hook Road in Epsom on Monday, March 26 after a member of the public reported that remains had surfaced.

Officers sealed-off the area but concluded that "there was nothing suspicious about the find" although it is believed some of the bones were taken home by an unidentified child.

It is thought the bones were dug up by foxes or dogs and is only the latest in a series of disturbing discoveries at the site, including a human spine found there two years ago.

The cemetery was designed to contain 900 bodies but approximately 8,000 people were buried there between the start of the last century and 1955.

The vast majority were mental patients at the Epsom Cluster hospitals.

They were buried six deep in unmarked graves.

In 1983, the cemetery was sold off by the regional health authority to private developer Marques Securities in 1983 and placed no condition on its maintenance.

The Mayor of Epsom and Ewell said the latest gruesome incident means action must be taken to provide proper maintenance at the site and protect the human remains buried there.

Councillor Sheila Carlson said: "It could well have been foxes that dug up the bones as it is a wonderfully wild environment.

"Marques Securities bought a crop of land for next to nothing and cares so little about all those bodies buried there and the maintenance required.

"It is an outrage that the NHS sold it to the company in the first place.

"The owner has two choices: acknowledge that it has bought the land and do something to maintain the dignity and integrity of the site, or wash its hands of it and hand it over to the council - because the problem is not going to go away, it will get worse.

"The owner does not just have rights, it has responsibilities. There is a moral obligation on the owner because it knew it was buying a cemetery.

"Quite often patients of the mental hospitals were not claimed in death.

"They were placed in the ground one on top of another and even now they cannot get the respect they deserve."

Marques Securities company spokesman, John Hines, said: "The cemetery is open woodland at this point in time as the government gave up all maintenance of it.

"It is my understanding that there were no conditions imposed on the sale to do anything at all with the cemetery so it is in the same condition as we can see today.

"Remains could be dug up by an animal which could happen at any cemetery. I don’t know how we could manage Horton Cemetery to stop it being dug up by animals."

But Tim Morris, chief executive of the Institution of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, said he had been alerted to the condition of Horton Cemetery by a worried resident last week.

He said: "The individual was concerned about the state of the cemetery and I advised them to contact the owner and place some moral pressure on them. It is the only logical approach."

Mr Morris confirmed there was no legal obligation on a private owner of a cemetery to maintain it, unless this was a condition of the sale.

He added: "There is no real long-term protection for cemeteries unless there is an agreement in place.

"It is a bit disturbing - this developer could eventually apply for planning permission and this cemetery could disappear."

Coun Carlson is now researching the history of the dead buried at Horton Cemetery to see if there are any graves of soldiers of the World Wars which could officially be commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission - something Mr Morris said would provide protection for the site against development, as well as degeneration.

The two soldiers known to be buried in Horton Cemetery have already been commemorated by the commission at Epsom Cemetery in Ashley Road and Coun Carson is appealing for new information about any other soldiers who may be buried there.

She said: "If the commission decided there were war graves there, it would have tremendous powers.

"The owner would then have to maintain the cemetery in a condition the commission was happy with.

"We are doing what research we can, but there may be people who knew someone who was at the hospital or buried in the cemetery, or has a map of the plots, whose help we need."

Mr Berry, of Nimbus Road in Epsom, who campaigned for a memorial to be erected outside the cemetery in 2004 and last month received an award for his services to the borough, said finding remains two years’ ago was a horrible experience.

The 77-year-old said: "I was walking with my dog down Hook Road and found part of a spine on the footway.

"I then looked in the cemetery and found bones had all been laid out there.

"It’s not a very nice thing to find and I was quite shocked.

"I would like to see Horton Cemetery tidied up and put back into public ownership so people can have access to it.

"I honestly cannot see the owner doing anything, but the cemetery should be handed over to the council.

"Marques Securities won’t be able to do anything with it because it’s green belt land and surely its director, Michael Heighes, feels some responsibility, some moral obligation to do something if remains are coming to the surface?"

What do you think should be done to protect the cemetery?

Email hmatharu@london.newsquest.co.uk or write to her at Floor 10, Quadrant House, The Quadrant, Sutton, SM2 5AS