Findings released after probe into wrong graves at Berwick cemeteries

Fears of bodies being buried in the wrong graves at two Berwick cemeteries failed to materialise a report says

Malcolm Purvis, Heather Purvis, Carol Gregory and Chris Gregory
Malcolm Purvis, Heather Purvis, Carol Gregory and Chris Gregory

Families’ fears that their loved ones were buried in the wrong graves are unfounded, a report says.

Northumberland County Council had feared there could be around 30 cases of burials in the wrong grave, the wrong memorial being on a grave, deeds having been issued incorrectly or an unregistered burial having taken place at two cemeteries in Berwick, Northumberland.

Two gravediggers were sacked after apparent irregularities at the sites came to light.

However, the council has now released the findings of an independent audit into the anomalies and says the reports shows “the very worst fears raised by the initial investigation did not come about.”

The two sacked men last night claimed the findings exonerated them, although the council insisted it had been right to dismiss them.

In November 2012, the county council revealed that “problems” had been suspected at the North Road and Tweedmouth cemeteries after the authority took over management of the sites from the now defunct Berwick Borough Council in 2009.

Chris Gregory and Malcolm Purvis, gravediggers at the two sites, were suspended and eventually sacked after an investigation found apparent irregularities, but have always denied any wrongdoing.

The men had been arrested in October 2010 amid allegations they assaulted their manager and pushed her into an open grave at the Tweedmouth cemetery, although police took no further action.

Now, the council has released the results of the audit which it says confirmed there were “serious issues with record keeping, poorly completed statutory records (which are a legal requirement) and the information available to the public.”

It also discovered an “error with a previously reserved (but empty) plot within one of the cemeteries which has now been resolved with the family concerned.”

However, the council has said its “very worst fears... did not come about.”

The authority also said all issues at the cemeteries have now been resolved.

Barry Rowland, executive director of local services at the authority said: “The public can be confident that the records of both these cemeteries are now accurate and correct.

“We understand that this whole process has been upsetting for people affected and we’re sorry for any distress caused during the audit.

“I can reassure everyone involved that all the work carried out by the council was dealt with in an extremely sensitive manner.

“I’m pleased to say that the errors discovered by the audit have now been corrected and the very worst fears raised by the initial investigation did not come about.

“However, the concerns about the records were something the council needed to act on and we took action as soon as possible to ensure this was rectified.”

Yet a statement issued on behalf of the gravediggers said: “Chris Gregory and Malcolm Purvis are delighted that they have been exonerated and that the council have now put an end to the speculation that people were buried in the wrong graves.”

The statement called for an apology to the duo for the “distress” caused.

Responding to their calls, a council spokesman said: “We are satisfied with the outcome of the disciplinary procedure.”

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