Family's fury over funeral fiasco after wrong grave is dug in cemetery

A woman’s funeral was delayed by two hours after cemetery workers dug a grave at the wrong side of the graveyard.

Friday, 25th October 2019, 10:34 am
Updated Monday, 28th October 2019, 1:52 pm
Anne-Marie Lavelle at her sister Teresa's grave, which had not been dug at the appointed time of the funeral.

The family of a Houghton woman whose funeral was delayed because her grave hadn’t been dug have spoken of their anger at Sunderland council.

Teresa Tarbett died on October 4 aged 59, following complications from a stomach ulcer eruption. She left behind a partner and two sons.

Her funeral was on Monday, October 14 and her wish was to be buried as close as possible to her late parents in the Catholic section of Houghton Cemetery.

Teresa Tarbett, who has died aged 59, with her partner Steven Bradley.

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Her sister, Anne-Marie Lavelle, visited the cemetery on the day before her sister’s funeral to place flowers on their parents’ grave and noticed that no new grave had been dug, however she thought the work would be done later that day.

However when the hearse pulled up on the day of the funeral it was on the wrong side of the cemetery.

Staff at the cemetery told Mrs Lavelle that instructions hadn’t been followed and that grave had been dug in the wrong place. The family were then told the burial could either be delayed for a day, or Teresa could be buried in another section.

Mrs Lavelle, 47 said: “It was unthinkable that we had to deal with this at the graveside.”

It was agreed that her Teresa Tarbett would be buried as close as possible to her parents' grave, seen here with her sister Anne-Marie

After complaining that neither option was suitable a hasty compromise was struck and the mourners returned two hours later, after the wake, by which time a grave had been dug at the agreed spot.

Due to the delay some mourners had to miss the burial.

The family has been further annoyed by a letter from Sunderland City Council.

Mrs Lavelle said: “We’ve had an official letter of apology from Bereavement Services. They referred to it as an ‘unfortunate incident’. It was completely without sentiment and was a very impersonal letter. Zero explanation as to what actually happened to cause this distress.

“It was as if they’d forgotten to collect your bin.

“The council are offering a service at a cost of £2,100 to buy and dig a plot in the cemetery, which is not cheap; and they can't even get simple instructions correct.”

Sunderland City Council’s cabinet secretary, Councillor Paul Stewart has now apologised.

He said: “We offer our sincere apologies to the family and other mourners, and we are in contact with the family.

“This was an administrative error and failure where procedures to assign staff tasks and jobs were not good enough. Clearly that should not have happened.”