Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Wife's anger at grave blunder

A WIDOW has told of her anger at finding her late husband’s coffin being “squashed” in between two other graves

A WIDOW has told of her anger at finding her late husband’s coffin being “squashed” in between two other graves.

Janine Stevens realised that he had been buried at Fair Mile cemetery in Henley incorrectly only on the day of his funeral.

Henley Town Council apologised and agreed to pay to have Andrew Stevens’s body exhumed and reburied. But almost four months later this has still not happened.

Now Mrs Stevens has been warned that she may have to pay for a new coffin for her husband, a former Royal Marine, if his reburial is delayed much longer.

Mr Stevens, who was 53, passed away peacefully on June 14 from bowel cancer, which had been diagnosed in 2010.

His wife, who lives in Greys Road, Henley, said: “I asked if I could choose the site where my husband would be buried but I was told I couldn’t. The sites are dug up on the morning of the funeral and I was horrified when I was surrounded by my family and friends to see him being squashed between two graves, presumably to make up the allotted numbers of that line.”

She complained to Nicci Taylor, the council’s cemetery manager, who admitted Mr Stevens had been buried in the wrong place.

Mrs Stevens then agreed with town clerk Janet Wheeler that his body could be exhumed and reburied, which requires special permission from the Ministry of Justice and the Diocese of Oxford.

She said: “In the middle of August I came to the town council and I handed over the paperwork to the town clerk and she assured me, in good faith, that it would be taken out of my hands and I had no need to worry. She would take it on and it would cause me no more distress.

“She was going to email me to say that she had sorted it out but the email didn’t come so I gave it another week.”

Mrs Stevens met Mrs Wheeler at the cemetery on September 7 to discuss a new plot but then heard nothing from her for a month. She called again on Tuesday last week only to discover that her application had not gone any further.

Mrs Stevens said: “I found to my horror that the paperwork for the diocese had not been touched.

“I have been really, really distressed over this and it is quite upsetting when you lay your husband to rest. It is a shambles.”

She escalated her complaint and spoke to Mayor Julian Brookes, giving him an ultimatum that she would go public with her complaint if the application wasn’t submitted on Friday, which it was.

Mrs Stevens attended a council meeting on Tuesday to raise her complaint.

She told councillors: “My husband was buried on the Tuesday and I was there with my four daughters and having to stand on other people’s graves to put my husband in.

“I want my husband moved quickly and I don’t want any further delays. I have been informed that if there are my husband would need a new coffin.”

She claimed the council’s own map of the cemetery was not fit for purpose and urged it to take action in order to avoid a repeat.

Mrs Stevens said: “I had never been in this cemetery before and the map that has been drawn up is appalling.

“It has been divided up with no reflection of the measurements of the land, no measurements to the contours of the land.

“The fact is, that cemetery is on a hill. Currently graves are not in line and are not straight. There are also so many benches on that site that it looks like a picnic site. It has not been properly managed.”

Mrs Stevens said later that she been promised that the section where her husband is currently buried will be closed and a path created to a new burial are where he will be moved to.

She added: “I want the remaining land surveyed so no mistakes can happen again.”

Mrs Wheeler said: “What has happened to Mrs Stevens and her family is unacceptable and on behalf of Henley Town Council and its staff I offer my unreserved apologies.

“Up until September, none of the councillors was aware of what has happened in the cemetery. I will be making a full inquiry with everyone involved. That will include people both within the council and contractors.

“I will also be reviewing the process from the booking of the burials to the allocation of plots and general maintenance. Until this review is complete I will not be making any further comments.”

Councillor Brookes told Mrs Stevens: “I can assure you that there is focus on making sure that none one else will go through what you have gone through.”

Mr Stevens was in 45 Commando, Royal Marines, and travelled widely in several theatres of operation, including eastern Australia, northern Norway and Belize.

He was also in the Royal Navy, which he represented in hockey, tennis and badminton. He spent the rest of his career as a human resources manager.

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