Shock as burial is cancelled as no grave had been dug

PUBLISHED: 17:36 20 August 2008 | UPDATED: 13:31 06 May 2010

St Leonard's churchyard

St Leonard's churchyard

SHOCKED mourners who attended a funeral at a village church discovered just before the service started that there was no final resting place for the deceased as a grave had not been dug. The funeral of 83-year old Marjorie Howells was arranged through the

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SHOCKED mourners who attended a funeral at a village church discovered just before the service started that there was no final resting place for the deceased as a grave had not been dug.

The funeral of 83-year old Marjorie Howells was arranged through the Co-op Funeral service in Hatfield Road, St Albans. But when her family and friends arrived at St Leonard's Church in Sandridge for the interment no grave could be found.

The distraught family and had to leave the cemetery and those who could were told to return the next day when the grave would be dug.

Church warden Roland King said: "I've never known anything like this to happen before in my 50 years as a warden.

"Obviously it must have been distressing for the family and friends to have to go through it all again the next day, always assuming they managed to take another day off work."

He said he had been puzzled on the Friday preceding the funeral to see no grave had been dug but had assumed it would be done on Saturday or early Monday morning.

It was his understanding that the person responsible for organising the funeral had thought the grave-digging would be done by the church.

A member of the Howells family said: "Following the loss of a loved one, an emotionally difficult time, my family turned to the Co-op to provide the funeral services.

"On the day of the funeral the family arrived at the church early on what we knew would be an emotionally-difficult day. Approximately 20 minutes before the service was due to start we were informed that our funeral directors, the Co-op, had not prepared the grave and that because of this my grandmother would not be buried following the service as originally planned. Everyone had to proceed to the wake without seeing my grandmother laid to rest.

"Only the immediate members of the family were able to attend the interment on the following day. This has caused anxiety, emotional distress, disappointment and embarrassment to the family.

"After difficult discussions with the branch manager and regional manager last week a conclusion has been reached. It is not a satisfactory conclusion but we needed closure so the family can finally grieve.

A spokesperson for The Co-operative Funeralcare apologised for being unable to carry out Mrs Howells' funeral as arranged and extended the firm's sympathy to her family and friends.

He said: "We are currently reviewing the circumstances of what happened and will ensure necessary lessons are learnt to prevent such an unfortunate situation occurring in the future.

"We recognise that Mrs Howells' funeral did not meet our usual high standards."

The late Mrs Howells, formerly of Langley Grove, Sandridge, had been living at a nursing home in Harpenden prior to her death.

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