WHEN Marjorie Bradley appealed for help in The Northern Echo to find the mystery mourner who had been leaving flowers on her late father's grave, she had no idea it would unearth evidence of a bond between a doctor and his patients that has spanned four decades.

Dr John Leslie was laid to rest in a quiet corner of South Church Cemetery, County Durham, a position that ensures the grave overlooks the small community to which he devoted 20 years of his life.

His wish was that he would be buried among the patients he had grown to love since he moved to a small hamlet called Coronation, near Bishop Auckland, in 1946.

The ashes of his wife, Elizabeth, who returned to their native Scotland after his death from a heart attack at the age of 52 in 1966, have since been buried with him.

His family, who live elsewhere in the country, have visited their parents' resting place whenever they can and have always found flowers there.

Mrs Bradley said: "As I and my brother and sister do not live in the area, visits to the grave are infrequent.

"Every time we do visit, there is always some form of floral tribute there. We have always wondered who it was."

Last night, it emerged that the mystery mourner was not one but several of the well-respected GP's patients, who have never forgotten his kindness.

Maurice Blackett, 70, who now lives in Bishop Auckland, can remember Dr Leslie looking after him and his family when he was a boy. He spends time at the doctor's grave when he visits the grave of his brother which is also at the cemetery.

Mr Blackett said: "I have left flowers and I have even cleaned up his grave, but it is not just me - there are other people.

"Dr Leslie was such a great man. His family should know that people around here are still thinking of their father. They still care and he hasn't been forgotten."

Eddie and Joan Welford, whose home overlooks the cemetery, said they often leave flowers on the doctor's grave.

For Mrs Welford, in particular, it is her way of saying thank you to the man who looked after her late father and stepmother.

She remembered a caring doctor who would think nothing of going to a patient's home and making them something to eat - or lighting their coal fire - if they were too ill to do it themselves.

She said: "We know that his family live away and that is why we keep an eye on him. We have a garden and we pick flowers in the summer and leave them on his grave."

She added: "He was a very caring man and a good doctor to everyone."

Edna Downs, who now lives in Newton Aycliffe, said: "He was special and deserves to be remembered."

Mrs Bradley said: "I am overwhelmed and absolutely thrilled.

"It has been lovely to be able to thank these people for their care of my dad's grave, and especially wonderful to hear how much they thought about him.

"Obviously, to the family, he was irreplaceable, but to hear it from someone else 40 years after his death is very touching."