A County Durham family who spent 17 years visiting the wrong grave after a shocking mix-up has received an apology in the House of Commons.

In July The Northern Echo revealed how Tom Bell and his sisters discovered the shocking blunder after the death of their mum whose last wishes were to be buried alongside her husband Thomas Bell.

As they grieved the loss of mum Hilda, they were left stunned when they got a call from the undertaker to tell them gravediggers had found a stranger’s coffin in the grave where their dad should have been.

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On Thursday (September 8) MPs heard how the Bell family endured a “heart-breaking” eight-week delay in burying Hilda as eleven graves were dug up at Holy Trinity Church, Wingate in a search for their dad’s resting place.

Thomas was eventually found to have been buried just two meters away from where his family believed he had been buried for 17 years.

Hilda was finally buried alongside her husband in a burial service on August 12, almost two months after her death on June 16.

An inquiry into the matter is due to begin next month.

Conservative MP Andrew Selous, who acts as the Second Church Estates Commissioner, told the House of Commons: “This has been a deeply troubling time for the Bell family and I’d like to pass on my heartfelt apologies for what has happened.

“I’m pleased that this issue has been resolved and the lessons learned process begins next month.

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“I know the vicar of Holy Trinity, Wingate, has greatly supported the family during this difficult time.”

Easington MP Grahame Morris previously called for a review after the distressing mix-up was discovered and has now suggested reforms are needed to improve burial records.

Morris told the Commons: “Can I place on record my thanks to (Mr Selous) for his assistance with this matter during the recess.

The Northern Echo: Tom Bell discovered he had been visiting the wrong grave for the past 17 years. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTTom Bell discovered he had been visiting the wrong grave for the past 17 years. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

“I can report to the House that Thomas Bell’s coffin has been located and his late wife Hilda was buried with him after a heart-breaking eight-week delay, but appallingly for 17 years the family – who are my constituents living in Easington – unknowingly attended the wrong grave.

“In locating Mr Bell’s coffin, several other errors were identified.

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“So does (Mr Selous) agree that we need to improve burial records with digital copies, introduce a new process for marking plots after burial, and have rules about the orderly organisation of plots in churchyards?”

Mr Selous replied: “(Mr Morris) is absolutely right that record-keeping is incredibly important and the Parochial Registers and Records Measure 1978 clearly states that records should be in fireproof places.

“His point about digital is also well made.

“The lessons learned inquiry will focus on best practice for all parishes.”

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