Heartbroken Norfolk family prepares to re-bury ‘wrong grave’ mum
A grieving son has confronted councillors to plead for 'compassion' ahead of his family's 'incredibly difficult' task tomorrow of exhuming and re-burying their mother, who was buried in the wrong grave.
Sigrid Smith, of Sheringham, was killed when she fell from a path at the National Trust's Watersmeet gorge in Devon on June 23.
On July 5, the family gathered to bury 82-year-old Mrs Smith next to her husband Arthur in a family plot at Sheringham cemetery. But they were shocked and angry to discover that the grave prepared for their much-loved mum was the plot reserved for her daughter, Jackie Fuller.
Mrs Smith's children and grandchildren finally got permission on Tuesday from Norwich Diocese for the exhumation and re-burial to go ahead, as a private family service, at the cemetery at midday tomorrow.
The trauma is unlikely to subside after the emotional ceremony, though, as the family is locked in a conflict with the town council, which it blames for the mix-up and claims has not yet fully apologised or accepted the blame.
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On Tuesday evening, one of Mrs Smith's sons, Bernard Smith, from Cromer, addressed a meeting of the council.
Mr Smith read out two letters that he had recently written to the council's deputy mayor, David Gooch.
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He said: 'I didn't think and didn't hope to have to stand here again this month in this particular week, which is probably going to be the most difficult of mine and my family's life.
'I will personally be involved in the exhumation and re-burial of somebody very close to me, that I loved dearly. The pain that my family has been going through since June 23 when we lost mum and July 5 when we buried mum has not been helped by the total lack of compassion we've been shown by this council, since the dreadful mistake was discovered at the grave-side.'
He added: 'It makes Friday's task incredibly difficult. We even had to sit and witness some incredibly distasteful remarks made by some councillors at last month's meeting, when heated discussions took place over the costs of exhumation and re-burial which the council has finally agreed to meet.'
He said the family's situation could have been eased if the council had made the 'simplest of apologies' and admitted its error 'at the very beginning', and 'shown us the compassion we deserved, which should have been their main priority'.
He added: 'Instead we have had 14 or so horrific weeks to cope with, which will continue until we have answers to many questions which the council are obliged to give us, and help us through, rather than add to, this ordeal.'
None of the councillors commented, but earlier in the meeting, town mayor Douglas Smith announced that a 'special meeting' had been convened on October 12 to 'resolve and finalise all correspondence from the family regarding the burial'.
After the meeting, Bernard Smith added: 'Mum was loved by all her family and friends, and deserved better than what we have had to suffer since the dreadful error which totally destroyed and wrecked what had been the most loving, personal and moving farewell my family had given her on July 5, which was also mum and dad's wedding anniversary which we had deliberately chosen as the appropriate date to lay them at rest together.'
He said: 'We are hurting badly, and will not let this matter rest until the full council agrees to meet with our family, to discuss the internal investigations into the error and everything that has happened since July 5.'
A representative of the town council was contacted, but said the council felt 'unable' to comment at this stage.
Mrs Smith was well known in Sheringham. She ran a guest house on Cromer Road with her husband for 45 years, before he died last year. She was a driving force for Sheringham's twinning links with Otterndorf in Germany, initially drafted in to help translate letters but going on to play a leading role. She also led the local Girls' Brigade for many years, and was a helper at the town's carnival.