East Durham family's disbelief after discovering father has been buried in wrong grave for 17 years

A grieving family have told of their disbelief after discovering their father has been buried in the wrong grave for 17 years.

Tom Bell, and his sisters discovered the blunder after the recent death of their mum, Hilda Bell, whose last wishes were to be buried alongside her husband Thomas at Holy Trinity Church, Wingate.

They were stunned when informed by the undertaker that gravediggers had found a woman's coffin in the plot where their dad was meant to be and where his headstone stands.

The family still don’t know where he is buried and Hilda’s body has been kept at a funeral home for the past five weeks due to the error.

Tom Bell at the plot in Holy Trinity Church, Wingate, where the family believed their father Thomas Bell to be buried. Pictures: North News and Pictures.

Distraught son Tom, 58, from Easington, said: "Losing our mam was devastating.

"And then to be told the grave of our dad we have spent the last 17 years visiting is not his is just unbearable. How could this happen?"

Gravediggers acting for the Diocese of Durham, which is responsible the church and graveyard, have since dug up six plots but have yet to locate Thomas.

Tom and his sisters Denise, 59, and Debra, 53, sadly lost Hilda, 79, last month and her funeral was held on July 1.

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

Tom, a factory worker, added: "Seventeen years ago when dad died mum bought the plot so she could be with him when she died.

"Mum used to go every Friday on her way to the hairdressers to take flowers and clean the gravestone.

"We've had a funeral service but our mum is still in a funeral home waiting to be buried and they've dug up six graves so far trying to find our dad but we don't know where he is."

Describing how they felt when they found out the news, he said: "We really could not believe what we were hearing.”

Read More

Read More
Hartlepool photographer presents Tommy creator with 'different' picture of iconi...

Andrew Radcliffe from Speckman's funeral directors, who has been helping the family, said he had never come across such a case in his 20 years of experience.

The graveyard was closed to new burials in 2011 but close relatives and those with family plots may still be laid to rest there.

It is thought that a mix-up with the headstones on two plots after Thomas's 2005 burial and inconsistent records after an original graveyard map was lost in a fire sometime around the 1980s could be to blame.

The family have identified an unmarked plot just two meters away where they believe their father may be buried.

The Reverend Jane Grieve, vicar at Holy Trinity, who was not at the church when the graves were wrongly marked, said: "We are all acutely aware of the increasing distress for everyone with every passing day.

"The distressing situation we face today goes back to the late 1990s and early 2000s when Wingate churchyard was still 'open' and receiving regular burials.

"It's been made more difficult to resolve by several key players from those years being no longer with us, and a break in and burning on the altar years ago of some historic church papers including an original graveyard plan.

"Since then funeral directors and gravediggers have used the gravedigger's plan when engaged by families to prepare plots for burials here.

"Our hearts and prayers really are with all affected as we continue to work for a resolution."