Gravediggers bid to clear their names

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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Two Berwick gravediggers sacked for gross misconduct are calling for the publication of a council report which they claim will clear their names.

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.

However, it is understood the report, which is expected to be published later this month, will shed new light on the matter.

Mr Gregory and Mr Purvis were sacked in November 2012 but have always strenuously denied all of the allegations, describing their ordeal as ‘four years of hell for them and their families’.

At the time they claimed they were the victims of a witch-hunt by the council as it tried to explain a catalogue of administrative errors at Berwick and Tweedmouth cemeteries.

The council have agreed to share the report’s contents with Mr Gregory and Mr Purvis in advance of publication.

Both men are said to be concerned over the delays in its publication and are urging the council to ‘get on with it and put an end to years of unfounded speculation’.

Georgina Hill, who is acting as an advisor to the men, is seeking assurances the report will be released very soon after it is believed the council has missed a number of deadlines.

She said: “It’s absolutely paramount that the council release this report which will finally set out the facts about the unfounded allegations of unlawful activity in the town’s cemeteries.

“Both Chris and Malcolm and their families have had to live with these allegations and they believe the council needs to come clean about why their names and stories became the currency of tabloid headlines before the council had even carried out a proper investigation into the lurid accusations. The council needs to do the decent thing and put the facts into the public domain. It’s a question of transparency.”

Both Mr Gregory and Mr Purvis have pointed to failures in the council’s procedures over the allegations and have expressed concern the previous administration made comments that stoked a media frenzy.

They want to know why some members of the press knew about their dismissal before they were officially informed and why their information found its way to the media before them.

At the time, the council revealed an investigation into historical inaccuracies at the cemeteries had uncovered evidence of burials in the wrong plots, memorials on the wrong graves, deeds issued incorrectly and unregistered burials.

But Mr Gregory and Mr Purvis, who had each clocked up 22 years’ service, insisted management had been unable to understand the complex system of book-keeping they used.

The pair had been responsible for booking funerals and allocating graves, as well as gravedigging when they worked for Berwick Borough Council pre-2009.

They had been arrested and suspended from work in October 2010 amid allegations they assaulted their manager and pushed her into an open grave, although no further action was taken by the CPS due to lack of evidence.

The council then launched disciplinary proceedings against the pair relating to the cemetery record irregularities and they were sacked. They lost an internal appeal and stepped away from an industrial tribunal due to stress.

The council maintained it had serious concerns about the poor state of the records at the cemeteries. A small number of graves were identified as being ‘at risk’ and a more detailed investigation was launched.

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