Grave error

Brian McDonald alongside his father Walter's grave in Southwick Cemetery.
Brian McDonald alongside his father Walter's grave in Southwick Cemetery.
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A FAMILY face the agony of having their father’s body exhumed 33 years after his death, following a grave mix-up.

The MacDonald children bought a plot at Southwick Cemetery to bury their dad, Walter, after he died in 1980.

Walter’s wife, Christina, always asked to be buried next to her husband and, following her death in February, plans were made for her to share the grave. However, the couple’s five children were left stunned when cemetery bosses told them their parents could not lie in rest together – because the plot was full.

Son, Brian MacDonald, 45, said: “They told us there were two other bodies in there as well as dad.

“There was no mention of this when we buried him 33 year ago, and we’ve no idea who these other two people are. We’d have never agreed to bury him there if we’d known.”

The family have now been forced to buy a new plot at the opposite end of the cemetery to bury Christina.

They have also applied to the Ministry of Justice to have Walter’s remains exhumed, and re-buried with his wife.

Brian, of Town End Farm, said: “It will cost us £2,000 for an exhumation and reburial, but that’s nothing compared to the upset and turmoil this has caused our family.

“But when it came to burying mum, the undertaker told us dad’s grave was only 4ft deep, so there would be no room for anyone else.”

Great-grandmother Christina, who was 80 when she died of cancer, is lying in the new, unmarked plot until her husband is buried beside her.

Public notices will be in place at the cemetery for the next 28 days in case anyone wants to object.

Brian, along with brothers Robert, 60, Walter, 52, and sisters Christine, 48, and Angela, 44, will only be informed once the exhumation is carried out. He said: “We are in a state of disbelief that it’s come down to this. Surely there should have been some paperwork stating the plot already had two bodies in it.”

Undertaker Tony Clarke, who made the funeral arrangements for Christina, said: “When we were asked to make plans to bury Mrs MacDonald, we asked the question if there were others buried beneath him, and it appears there were.”

Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “We appreciate the MacDonald family’s concerns and have been working closely with them, and their funeral director, to see how they can be best addressed.

“All cemeteries in the city have grave spaces that are categorised as ‘unpurchased’. Graves which fall into this category may have been used for burials previously, but still have capacity remaining for further burials to take place.

“Often, unpurchased graves are selected by families when they have a wish for their loved one to be buried, but do not want to purchase the grave space.

“In such circumstances, the application form that is completed by families and funeral directors when arranging a burial requires the family, or their representative, to sign to confirm that they understand that their loved one is to be buried in an unpurchased grave, and this may mean that other persons are, or may be, buried in the grave space too.

“Walter MacDonald was buried in Southwick Cemetery in February 1980, and an unpurchased grave was chosen for his burial. In October 1980, the unpurchased grave space was purchased by Walter’s son, Robert and he now holds the Exclusive Rights of Burial for the grave space.

“We obviously understand and appreciate the family’s upset, but have suggested alternative arrangements which we hope will allow their wishes to be met.”