Church in crisis as SECOND family has spent years visiting wrong grave

Church is in crisis as SECOND family is told they have been visiting wrong grave for years as six plots are dug up looking for missing body

  • Errors were discovered as a family prepared to bury their mother in a family plot
  • A woman was found in the grave of Thomas Bell, leaving his body missing
  • A second man was also found during the dig, whose family has now been told
  • Thomas’ wife Hilda had been visiting the wrong grave weekly for 17 years 

A second family has been told they have been visiting the wrong grave of a departed loved one for years after a Church realised it had made an awful blunder and marked buried coffins in the wrong place.

Yesterday MailOnline reported that a grieving family had been visiting what they thought was their dead father’s grave for 17 years – before the tragic death of their mother led to the grim discovery that he was not buried in that spot.

Holy Trinity Church in Wingate, County Durham, is now in crisis as it tries to establish how these errors occurred back in 2005.

It is no longer open for new burials due to being at full capacity, but family plots can still be reopened.

It is still unclear where Thomas Bell’s coffin lies, and six plots have been unsuccessfully dug up in an effort to find it.

Son Tom Bell, 58 and his sisters Denise, 59, and Debra, 53, were shocked to be told the grave they believed their dad was buried in was home to another coffin.

The Bell family believed their father was buried in the centre spot of Holy Trinity Church’s churchyard in Wingate, Durham

Tom Bell (left) said his family was left ‘devastated’ by the error, and it is ‘unbearable’ that the grave they have been visiting for 17 years is not his father’s

The blunder is thought to have been partly down to original graveyard records being destroyed in a fire

The family only discovered the error after the death of their mum, Hilda, whose last wishes were to be buried alongside her doting husband Thomas Bell.

A funeral service has been held for Hilda, but she is unable to be buried until Thomas is found. 

New details have now emerged confirming that gravediggers first discovered the coffin of a woman while preparing what they thought was Thomas’ grave for Hilda.

The woman has had Thomas’ headstone on her grave for all this time. 

They then realised another man was also buried nearby, and the church has now confirmed that he, too, had been buried in the wrong location for years.

It is understood the relatives of the man have now been informed of the shocking blunder.

Six plots have been dug up in the search for Thomas Bell’s coffin, yet his resting place has still not been found.

The Bell family are currently waiting for permission from the Chancellor of the Durham Diocese to dig another plot where they believe Thomas’ coffin may lie.

On Thursday (Jul 21) Tom Bell, a factory worker from Easington, told of his family’s hurt after the shock discovery.

The 58-year-old said: ‘Losing our mam was devastating.

‘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?

‘Our mam is lying in a funeral home waiting to be buried and our dad is somewhere in the cemetery in an unmarked grave.’

He added: ‘Mum used to go every Friday on her way to the hairdressers to take flowers and clean the gravestone.

‘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.’

Several people were buried around the same time in 2005, so the family are now hoping that Thomas is buried just a few metres away.

It is understood that a mix-up with the headstones on two plots after Thomas’ burial in 2005 and inconsistent records after an original graveyard map was lost in a fire sometime around the 1980s could be to blame.

Rev Jane Grieve, Vicar at Holy Trinity Wingate, who held the July 1 funeral service for Hilda but was not at the church in 2005 when the graves were wrongly marked, told MailOnline yesterday: ‘We are all acutely aware of the increasing distress for everyone with every passing day.

‘It was a difficult and emotional funeral to be part of, knowing we could not go out into the churchyard straight afterwards to lay Hilda to rest. I sensed both increasing shock and grief as the service went on.

‘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.

‘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. 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.’

Reacting to the story social media users rushed to support the Bell family.

One posted: ‘How heartbreaking. I hope they find the dad soon and they can lay their mam to rest with her husband. Cannot imagine what they going through.’

Another said: ‘Heartbreaking this, hope the family get some closure and have their dad found then both parents can finally rest in peace.’

Holy Trinity Church has been contacted for comment on today’s developments.

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