Council completes cemetery audit

L-r, ex-grave diggers for Northumberland County Council, Chris Gregory and Malcolm Purvis.

L-r, ex-grave diggers for Northumberland County Council, Chris Gregory and Malcolm Purvis.

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An independent report has backed a council’s commitment to ensure public confidence in the cemetery arrangements at Berwick North Road and Tweedmouth following a major audit of both sites.

Northumberland County Council has now completed a huge volume of checks on the records and plots at both locations after concerns were raised by an independent investigation by cemetery experts in October 2012.

Since taking over management of the cemeteries from Berwick Borough Council in 2009, Northumberland County Council identified serious issues with record keeping and took action to rectify these as soon as possible.

Two Berwick gravediggers, Chris Gregory and Malcolm Purvis, were accused of burying people in the wrong graves, taking bungs to unlawfully bury members of the travelling community and assaulting their ex-boss and were sacked for gross misconduct.

All burial records have now been checked following a major project to audit and improve the records systems at the two cemeteries.

This has been a complicated operation that involved contacting families, checking records and examining a large volume of historical evidence covering almost 100 years of data.

The audit did confirm serious issues with record keeping, poorly completed statutory records (which are a legal requirement) and the information available to the public.

It also discovered an error with a previously reserved (but empty) plot within one of the cemeteries which has now been resolved with the family concerned.

The project has now rectified these problems and the burial information available to the public has been re-written to ensure people have access to reliable and accurate records.

The council is now looking to introduce an electronic burial register across the county to make sure of an accurate and consistent approach.

Barry Rowland, executive director of local services at Northumberland County Council said: “The public can be confident that the records of both these cemeteries are now accurate and correct.

“We understand that this whole process has been upsetting for people affected and we’re sorry for any distress caused during the audit. I can reassure everyone involved that all the work carried out by the council was dealt with in an extremely sensitive manner.

“I’m pleased to say that the errors discovered by the audit have now been corrected and the very worst fears raised by the initial investigation did not come about.

“However, the concerns about the records were something the council needed to act on and we took action as soon as possible to ensure this was rectified.”

In October 2012 an independent investigation commissioned by the council revealed some historical inaccuracies in burial records affecting a number of graves established before 2009 in Berwick North Road and Tweedmouth Cemeteries.

Northumberland County Council had some concerns about the records at these sites since taking over management of the two cemeteries from Berwick Borough Council in 2009.

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