Family members find out they’ve been visiting the wrong grave for 17 years

A family spent 17 years gathering at the grave they believed to be their father’s final resting place before discovering someone else was fully buried there.

Tom Bell and his sisters believed their father Thomas Bell was under the ground of Holy Trinity Church in Wingate, County Durham, but when they arranged for their recently deceased mother to be buried next to him, they were informed by the undertaker that someone else was there.

That’s right, the gravediggers found a woman’s coffin in the plot where they believed her father was.

This means that their mother Hilda has been at a funeral home for five weeks, as they still don’t know exactly where their father is buried.

Tombstone of Thomas. Credit: North News and Pictures

Tom, 58, who lives in Easington, said: “Losing our mum was devastating.

“And then being told that our father’s grave that we’ve spent the last 17 years visiting isn’t his, it’s just unbearable. How could that happen?

“Our mom is lying in a funeral home waiting to be buried and our dad is somewhere in the cemetery in an unmarked grave.”

So far gravediggers in the Diocese of Durham have unearthed six graves but have yet to find where Thomas is buried.

There is also another element to this, as the woman who was actually in the grave was also buried in the wrong place, with her grave also being marked by the wrong headstone for 17 years.

Tom and his two sisters Denise and Debra lost their beloved mother to COPD in June, and they had planned to bury her – according to her wishes – in the land they bought when their father took her. do.

Thomas and Hilda Bell.  Credit: North News and Pictures
Thomas and Hilda Bell. Credit: North News and Pictures

Tom explained: “Seventeen years ago when dad died, mum bought the land so she could be with him when she died.

“Mom used to go to the hairdresser every Friday to get flowers and clean the tombstone.

‘When they went to dig the grave two days before the funeral the gravedigger could only go down five feet when they apparently should be able to go down eight feet for a double plot and they found someone’s coffin else in dad’s grave.

“Funeral director Andrew, who was very helpful, phoned us and said he needed to come and talk to us face to face.

“We had a funeral service but our mum is still at a funeral home waiting to be buried and they have dug up six graves so far to try and find our dad but we don’t know where he is. “

There may have been some confusion with the headstones in 2005 when Thomas was buried, but a fire in 1980 that destroyed an original cemetery map could also be to blame.

The family have identified an unmarked piece of land a few yards away which may contain their father’s coffin and have sought legal permission from the Chancellor of the Diocese of Durham to have it dug up.

Tom added: ‘In 2005 the day dad was buried there were a few funerals and we were grieving so we couldn’t remember exactly what plot his was and relied on the headstone just when we we came back.

“We now hope that he will be buried a few meters away.”

The family believe Thomas may be buried in a nearby grave.  Credit: North News and Pictures
The family believe Thomas may be buried in a nearby grave. Credit: North News and Pictures

Funeral directors confirmed they had never seen anything like it, and Reverend Jane Grieve, who performed Hilda’s funeral on July 1 but was not at church in 2005, said “We are all acutely aware of the increasing distress for everyone with each passing day.

“It was a difficult and emotional funeral, knowing that we could not go out into the cemetery immediately afterwards to rest Hilda. I felt both shock and growing grief as the service continued.

“The harrowing situation we face today dates back to the late 1990s and early 2000s when Wingate Cemetery was still ‘open’ and received regular burials.

“This was made more difficult to resolve by several key players from those years who were no longer with us, and a break-in and burning of the altar years ago of certain church historical papers, including an original cemetery plan.

“Since then, undertakers and gravediggers have used the gravedigger’s plan when hired by families to prepare plots for burials here. This part of the process does not directly involve the vicar or the church, although we are available to consult with them when needed.

“Our hearts and prayers are truly with all those affected as we continue to work towards a resolution.”

In the end, the family just hopes that Hilda can be buried with her husband.

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