THE family of a woman who died more than 60 years ago must pay £820 before it can place a headstone on her unmarked grave.

Mary Jane Douglas was buried in the cemetery at Cowshill and Burtreeford in Weardale, County Durham, in 1952 after losing her battle with cancer.

Her son Ian Douglas, now 76, supported by his surving brothers and sister, wanted to mark her final resting place and selected a modest £500 headstone.

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It was then Durham County Council said it had no record of the cemetery plot having been paid for and the family must first pay £820 to buy the grave before a headstone would be allowed.

The council said it is national law that plots must be bought before a headstone can be placed.

Mr Douglas, of Cotherstone, near Barnard Castle, said: “I can't understand how she was buried there if the plot was not paid for at the time.

“I was 14 when she died, it was a very difficult time for the family and it is only now this has come to light.

“I don’t mind paying towards the plot but £820 just seems stupid.”

His case was taken up by Weardale county councillor John Shuttleworth, who said: "Given the amount of time since she was buried there and the insensitivity issue I think it is totally outrageous that they have to pay.”

Mr Douglas added: “It is very frustrating. The family has spread out all over the place so it would be nice to have a proper headstone marking her grave for future generations to visit.

“My brother said she must surely have gained squatters’ rights by now!”

Graham Harrison, bereavement services manager with Durham County Council, said: “While we have the greatest of sympathy with Mr Douglas and his family, our hands are tied on this occasion as at the time of his mother’s death or in the years since, nobody has purchased the plot.

“It is the law nationally that you must own exclusive rights before you can place a headstone on a grave.”

Mrs Douglas was 51 when she died in May, 1952.

She was married to Fred and the couple, who lived in Wearhead, had six children, James, Donald, Jean, Doreen, Ian and Alec.