Thirty bodies buried in the wrong graves
THIRTY bodies may have been buried in the wrong graves at Berwick and Tweedmouth cemeteries because of mistakes dating back a number of years prior to 2009.
The issue came to light after an independent investigation found historical inaccuracies in the records for the North Road and Cemetery Loaning sites.
Northumberland County Council commissioned the investigation, as well as implementing internal disciplinary procedures, after suspecting there was a problem when it took over responsibility for the cemeteries from Berwick Borough Council three years ago.
Known mistakes include burials in the wrong plots, memorials on the wrong grave, deeds issued incorrectly, and unregistered burials.
At present, it is thought that most of the errors can be corrected simply by clarifying details in the burial records.
In a very small number of cases, however, the county council has revealed that more detailed investigation is required which could include partial excavation. In these cases, the authority has stressed it will work very closely with families and take any action only with their approval and express permission.
Steps are already being taken to contact any families who may be affected.
It is understood that council officers identified irregularities when new management arrangements were put in place to monitor operations at the cemeteries.
As a result of this, two members of staff, gravediggers Chris Gregory and Malcolm Purvis, were suspended and an investigation launched. They were subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct.
The pair had previously been arrested in October 2010 amid allegations they assaulted their manager and pushed her into an open grave at the Tweedmouth cemetery, although Northumbria Police later chose to take no further action due to lack of evidence.
Roger Styring, the council’s deputy leader, said: “We understand that this could be extremely upsetting for people affected by this and we’re sorry for the distress caused. We are deeply sympathetic to them at this difficult time.
“We are making a commitment to all of the families involved that we will deal with these issues in an extremely sensitive manner,” he continued.
“We would like to reassure people that we are working with the greatest of care, respect and sensitivity, and our sympathies are with anyone who is involved.’
“We are putting support in place to ensure that anyone affected has full knowledge and any support and guidance that they need during the work.”
The investigation discovered that over a number of years records had not always been well kept prior to 2009 and there was little supervision of procedures at the cemeteries.
No financial records were available from the previous Berwick Borough Council. Some important information is missing from the records for the cemeteries before 2009 and some have not been kept correctly.
The poor records mean that a small number of graves have been identified as being ‘at risk’.
This means that there is a chance that there has been a burial in the wrong grave, that the wrong memorial is on the grave,
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