Relatives of a man buried in Durham County, England, have been visiting the wrong grave for 17 years.
Thomas Bell’s family learned of the blunder while digging up what they thought was their father’s grave to fulfill their recently deceased mother Hilda’s wishes to be buried alongside her husband, The Sun reported.
Instead of finding their dad’s body, the family found the corpse of a woman buried under their father’s headstone.
“Losing our mum was devastating,” said Thomas’ 58-year-old son, Tom, according to The Northern Echo. “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?” Tom said, adding, “Our mum is lying in a funeral home waiting to be buried, and our dad is somewhere in the cemetery in an unmarked grave.”
Grave diggers hired by the Diocese of Durham, which manages the local church and graveyard, have been unable to find Thomas’ grave while digging up six plots to find him, The Northern Echo reported.
Despite the difficulties, the family still hopes to find Thomas’ grave and fulfill Hilda’s wishes, The Sun reported.
“Seventeen years ago, when dad died, mum bought the plot so she could be with him when she died,” Tom told The Northern Echo. “Mum used to go every Friday on her way to the hairdressers to take flowers and clean the gravestone.”
On June 16, Hilda died at age 79 due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, leaving behind Tom and her 59-year-old and 53-year-old daughters Denise and Debra, respectively, according to The Sun.
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The family wanted to bury her at Holy Trinity Church, Wingate, after Hilda’s July 1 funeral service, the outlet reported.
“When they went to dig the grave two days before the funeral, the gravedigger could only get five feet down when they should apparently be able to go eight feet down for a double plot and they found someone else’s coffin in dad’s grave,” Tom said.
“The funeral director, Andrew, who has been really helpful, rang us and said he needed to come and speak to us face to face.”
Andrew Radcliffe, from Speckman’s funeral directors, told The Sun that he had never encountered such a case in his 20 years as a funeral director.
“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,” Holy Trinity Church Vicar the Rev. Jane Grieve told The Sun.
“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,” Grieve said. “This part of the process does not directly involve the vicar or the church, though we are available to consult if ever needed.”
“Our hearts and prayers really are with all affected as we continue to work for a resolution.”