A grieving County Durham family has warned others to check their rights of ownership of graves after they were left with an unexpected £1,800 bill for permission to repair the headstones of their loved ones.

Dorothy Iley, 72, of Darlington, says her life was made a “misery” when in January 2023, just a month after her mum Mary Henderson died and was buried alongside her stepson and husband, she discovered she had no rights to do engraving and foundation work on their graves.

The graves belonged to her stepfather George Henderson, who died of cancer in 2002 and her stepbrother, William Henderson who died in 1986.

The Northern Echo: The late Mary Henderson and George Henderson.The late Mary Henderson and George Henderson. (Image: DOROTHY ILEY)

They are both buried in Thorpe Road Cemetery in Horden, County Durham alongside her late mum.

But, Dorothy has now had to fork out £900 for both her stepbrother William and stepdad George’s burial rights as she has no record of any rights for William, who died aged 17, and George’s had expired 10 years after he was buried.

Horden Parish Council says it posts all burial deeds but only keeps postage records of these for “at least six years” while Dorothy and her family believe they never received any for William.

If grave deeds aren’t renewed when they expire the plot becomes the property of the council, and to do any work, the family have to buy an exclusive right of burial, at a cost today of at least £330.

But for Dorothy, as neither of her relatives lived in Horden when they died, she had to pay an extra £600 for each, leaving her a whopping total bill of £1,800.

Now, after her experience, Mrs Iley is urging families across the North East to come forward and check any burial rights they hold for loved ones to make sure they don’t face the same hefty bill.

Dorothy said: “This whole experience has been horrendous – all our family have been thinking about for over a year is these burial rights and why we had never heard about them.

“We had never heard that our deceased had to have these burial rights – we thought that once they were buried and had the headstone on it was all finished.

“But then, when we found out that the graves supposedly had to be re-purchased to put the headstones right, which was one of my mum’s wishes before she died we were devastated.

“We felt awful and ignorant because we didn’t know anything about the rights at all.

“All we have done is try to get answers – why? Why do these graves have to be repurchased? We had no right to care for their headstones.”

Horden Parish Council has now confirmed this higher price to secure burial rights of non-residents has increased to £1,170 as of April 1, doubling from £562 in 2021/22.

Only now after obtaining the paperwork, which she had “no idea” was needed, can she pay to carry out the work, which includes engraving and anchoring them into new concrete foundations, costing her a further £914.

The Northern Echo: The graves of William and George Henderson.The graves of William and George Henderson. (Image: NORTHERN ECHO)

Dorothy said: “If people are trying to keep the gravestones in good condition, which costs a lot of money regardless, some of them are going to have to pay £900 on top of all of that.

“We just knew absolutely nothing about this. My family is there and so is my husband’s – but we truly have no idea about what is going on in our own graveyards.”

“Where is all this money for the burial rights going? Many people would not be able to afford this, and what would happen to their loved ones' graves?”

Rights of burial dates can vary, but cemetery rules laid out by Horden Parish Council state: “The exclusive right of burial is currently sold for a specific period of 100 years, it can be renewed at a fee determined at the time.

“Failure to renew the right at the end of the grant may result in the memorial being removed and the grave being re-sold.”


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This is something Dorothy and her family say they were not made aware of, and they say their story should act as a warning to other families who may face a similar situation.

She added: “I will never forget this experience – and it is something that is still so upsetting for my family. We just had no idea about any of this.”

Horden Parish Council stated that they are unable to comment on individual cases but were given an opportunity by The Northern Echo to provide a statement.