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Daughter's anguish as digger falls apart in cemetery and lands in grave while family waits to lay Sunderland mum to rest

A family from Sunderland have been left ‘angry’ and ‘upset’ after their late mother’s grave was dug out ‘at the last minute’ just as mourners arrived to pay their last respects – before part of the digger then fell into the plot.

Wednesday, 13th April 2022, 4:55 am
Updated Thursday, 14th April 2022, 11:07 am

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Kelly Smith, 46, from Hendon, says her family were left “absolutely foaming” after they arrived at Grangetown Cemetery to bury their mum Joan Stokoe and found her grave hadn’t been dug out.

Mourners began to arrive from 12.45pm on Monday, April 11 for the 1pm service, only to find a digger at the site.

But as daughter Kelly arrived, she was told the ‘scoop’ part of the digger had fallen off into her mother’s grave and a second machine used in an attempt to remove the part had broken down.

Kelly and her family were left distraught after her late mother's grave was dug 'last minute'.

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Family and friends waited for around an hour and a half in cars, before they were reportedly told they could either leave their mum on some nearby grass to be placed in the grave by council workers after the digger part was retrieved or lay her in the chapel of rest and carry out the service again the following day.

Distraught Kelly said: “I’m absolutely foaming, we are all so upset. We decided to leave her to be buried after they sorted the grave because we didn’t want to go through it all over again.

"It was really distressing, we couldn’t give her a proper send off. I just can’t understand why the grave wasn’t ready, it’s ridiculous.”

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Kelly (left) with her son Billy (middle) and husband Stephen and late mother Joan alongside Kelly's sister Jenna (right) who helped organise the funeral.

Kelly says her mum Joan, who sadly passed away on March 30 aged 66, was eventually buried sometime on Monday afternoon but diggers were still seen next to her grave at 6pm.

She added: “The Reverend and undertaker were brilliant but we were disappointed with the Council – it’s a disgrace. We couldn’t say goodbye properly and she didn’t get the send off she deserves.”

Sunderland City Council has since told the family that they don’t need to pay for the burial and they will also be sent a written apology after the Echo contacted them.

Sunderland City Council’s Assistant Director of Community Resilience, Sandra Mitchell said: “We very much understand how this was a rare, regrettable and unfortunate incident.

Kelly and her family were left 'distressed' after arrived and the grave wasn't ready.

“Staff are upset about what happened and everyone who works at Sunderland Cemetery offers their sympathies and apologies.

“We are working with the family to address their concerns.

"Preparation of the grave began four hours before the funeral time at 1pm however there were mechanical problems with the digging machine.

“We contacted the funeral director at noon one hour before to advise that there were difficulties.

“The family were given the choice and options of delaying the funeral for 24 hours or a graveside service.

“The family chose to proceed with the service on the day.”