UK: A family meditates on the wrong grave for 17 years

“Poor record-keeping” led to the deceased’s headstone being placed on the wrong grave, the BBC reports.

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Several graves were dug up before the deceased husband was finally discovered (photo illustration).

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UA County Durham family sat by the wrong grave for seventeen years, thinking it belonged to one of their own, the BBC reports. In the month of July Northern Echo revealed how the Bell family discovered they had taken the wrong grave after the death of their mother Hilda, whose last wishes were to be buried with her husband Thomas, who died years ago. Eleven graves were excavated at Holy Trinity Church in Wingate before Thomas Bell’s was finally discovered.

An inquiry was opened and identified “poor record-keeping” at Thomas Bell’s funeral in 2005, which led to his headstone being placed on the wrong grave. No markers were placed on his grave after his burial, and no one from the church participated in the placement of his headstone to ensure it was in the right place. The former local pastor, Martin Vaizey, “didn’t keep a record either”.

Towards new protocols

The report from the inquiry led by the Archdeacon of Sunderland, Bob Cooper, said that while “it cannot be guaranteed that cases like this will not happen again”, there are a number of lessons to be learned. He recommended all parishes review their filing procedures and implement new protocols for burials. The report also says that all grave records must be kept in electronic form and that graves must be marked immediately after burial with photographs to record their location.

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The investigation eventually discovered that Thomas Bell had been buried just six feet from where his family believed he had been lying for seventeen years. The late mother was finally laid to rest with her husband at a funeral on August 12, almost two months after her death on June 16. In September, the Bell family received an apology in the House of Commons from Tory MP Andrew Selous. Recently, a study of Northern Echo discovered that seven other families in the North East of England had been victims of the same mistake.

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