Jennifer Phillips bought a plot in Welton Road Cemetery, Daventry, Northamptonshire back in 1987 so that when the time came she and her husband could be buried next to her parents.
However, on a visit her parents grave she noticed a small wooden cross on the plot that she owned. It transpires that the council, through bad records management, had sold the plot again to a Mrs Ducker do she could bury her mother there.
The whole sorry mess had to be sorted out by Mr David Pittaway QC, chancellor of the diocese of Peterborough. He ruled that the remains of Mrs Sandra Cleaver (Mrs Ducker mother) needed to be exhumed and buried elsewhere. He decided it would be detrimental for Mrs Phillips to continue to visit her mother’s grave and see the grave where she was meant to be buried with someone else in it. And said that if the exhumation did not take place the two families could end up visiting their relatives at the same time, which could cause “unnecessary stress and distress”.
He went onto say “Mrs Phillips refers in her witness statement to this having occurred on two occasions already, on one of which Mrs Ducker’s family held themselves back whilst the other family was at the grave,” he said.
He added: “If I were to permit Mrs Cleaver’s cremated remains to remain and, in due course a memorial was erected, there would be a permanent reminder to Mrs Phillips every time she visited her parents’ grave that she would have been buried in plot A239 but for the Council’s mistake.
“Moreover, she would go to her grave in the knowledge that her long expressed wish to be buried behind her parents’ grave had been frustrated.”
He made a point that “several errors surrounding the Council’s attempts to remedy the situation, which could, with more care, have been avoided.
“For example, amongst others, the original letter to Mrs Ducker specified the wrong plot number and the alternative plot offered was not available.”.
Now that is bad enough, but what happened was that both families thought that they needed to significant legal representation to put their case across. The council had said it would pay up £1500 to cover the costs of any written submission, but the both ended up being represented in court at the hearing by QCs causing a significant escalation in costs. Which the council thought was unnecessary, and therefore they do not wish to liable for this increase in costs.
It would appear that Mr Pittaway was leaning towards the families he said the council needed to “show cause as to why they should not pay the other parties’ costs”. Which the council have since submitted. A spokesman for Daventry District Council said “We are very sorry for the distress our mistake has caused and we have offered our most sincere apologies to both of the families involved.
“It is deeply regrettable that a recording error made by the Council in the mid-1980s has led to two families having conflicting rights over one grave, and we will fully comply with the consistory court’s judgement.
“In recognition of our error, the Council offered to fund the legal costs of both families up to £1,500, which would have been sufficient for a court decision based on written representations.
“With a full hearing sought, we understand both families have incurred higher legal costs, and we await the decision of the court as to how those additional costs should be met.”
Oh my, what a mess, poor families. The question is should the families pay the extra money? A can see the councils point of view: it could have been settled by written submissions so why should they be liable if the families choose to spend a greater amount, surely that it up to them. However, I find myself leaning the other way. The council were wholly responsible for this and the significant upset this has caused. It is not unsurprising that the family would want to all within their power to argue the best possible case and yes this was their choice to do so, but they did not create the mess in the first place. And whilst it should not be an overriding factor of three parties the council has the resources to sort this out. Anyway, perhaps that is just me that thinks like that.