Family face £820 bill for unmarked Weardale grave before it can put up headstone - 60 years after funeral

Ian Douglas with a photo of his mother on a family outing

Ian (second right) is pictured next to his mother together with sister Jean and brother Alec (left) in Scarborough some six months before her death

Cowshill and Burtreeford Cemetery

First published in News by

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.

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.

Comments (13)

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8:30am Thu 9 Jan 14

OldBiddyFrom Barney says...

Durham County Council policy on graves is disgusting, when my uncle died according to his wishes he was buried at Barnard Castle his grave cost £800 we weren't allowed to use a local gravedigger, a DCC team dug the grave (the lads did a good job) we were charged for that service seperatly.

Then we got him a nice gravestone £600 from a local company no complaints it looks grand put what I am furious about is that we had to email the council with the wording that was going to be on the stone so they could 'authorise' it as suitable for a council owned cementery a service which we were charged £ 40 for! It is nothing but a rip off from start to finish
Durham County Council policy on graves is disgusting, when my uncle died according to his wishes he was buried at Barnard Castle his grave cost £800 we weren't allowed to use a local gravedigger, a DCC team dug the grave (the lads did a good job) we were charged for that service seperatly. Then we got him a nice gravestone £600 from a local company no complaints it looks grand put what I am furious about is that we had to email the council with the wording that was going to be on the stone so they could 'authorise' it as suitable for a council owned cementery a service which we were charged £ 40 for! It is nothing but a rip off from start to finish OldBiddyFrom Barney
  • Score: 31

9:16am Thu 9 Jan 14

jdavies414 says...

Perhaps the equitable solution would be for Durham County Council to charge the amount that would have applied in 1952. The council made the error in the first place by not collecting the interment fee.
Perhaps the equitable solution would be for Durham County Council to charge the amount that would have applied in 1952. The council made the error in the first place by not collecting the interment fee. jdavies414
  • Score: 36

9:34am Thu 9 Jan 14

thehogman says...

Dead people don't care about headstones or indeed who visits the grave; a great waste of money, effort and time; memory's of loved ones is in the heart and mind; not under 6 foot of earth
Dead people don't care about headstones or indeed who visits the grave; a great waste of money, effort and time; memory's of loved ones is in the heart and mind; not under 6 foot of earth thehogman
  • Score: -26

11:42am Thu 9 Jan 14

vauxhall007 says...

The Council should use discretion in this case, and waver the charge, I would assume if the family had have been aware of the charge many years ago it would have been paid.
How can the family be held to account for an admin error of the Council.
Come on DCC show some decency and withdraw the bill.
The Council should use discretion in this case, and waver the charge, I would assume if the family had have been aware of the charge many years ago it would have been paid. How can the family be held to account for an admin error of the Council. Come on DCC show some decency and withdraw the bill. vauxhall007
  • Score: 17

11:46am Thu 9 Jan 14

Andyleigh says...

Just because the council have no record of the grave having been paid for doesn't mean that it wasn't bought. It is not entirely unknown for councils to make clerical errors.
Just because the council have no record of the grave having been paid for doesn't mean that it wasn't bought. It is not entirely unknown for councils to make clerical errors. Andyleigh
  • Score: 23

12:21pm Thu 9 Jan 14

Mr A says...

Surely it's up to the council to prove that it was not paid for not the other way around.
Surely it's up to the council to prove that it was not paid for not the other way around. Mr A
  • Score: 21

4:08pm Thu 9 Jan 14

Voice-of-reality says...

They have managed without a headstone for 60 years - so why bother - why not remember their mother in another way and 'to hell' with the council.
They have managed without a headstone for 60 years - so why bother - why not remember their mother in another way and 'to hell' with the council. Voice-of-reality
  • Score: -2

7:57pm Thu 9 Jan 14

punkrocker says...

durham council ripping off the families of the dead
disgusting
durham council ripping off the families of the dead disgusting punkrocker
  • Score: 10

7:59pm Thu 9 Jan 14

punkrocker says...

get your own back on council
flood them with freedom of information requests
get your own back on council flood them with freedom of information requests punkrocker
  • Score: 2

11:32pm Thu 9 Jan 14

lollypop2loza says...

excuse me that's my granddad and people saying nasty things id like to see you say not behind your computers my granddad had his mum taken from him when he was a 14 and him and the whole family miss her dearly. Think about peoples before you post what ever comes into your head.
excuse me that's my granddad and people saying nasty things id like to see you say not behind your computers my granddad had his mum taken from him when he was a 14 and him and the whole family miss her dearly. Think about peoples before you post what ever comes into your head. lollypop2loza
  • Score: 8

5:21pm Fri 10 Jan 14

settheworldonfire says...

lollypop2loza wrote:
excuse me that's my granddad and people saying nasty things id like to see you say not behind your computers my granddad had his mum taken from him when he was a 14 and him and the whole family miss her dearly. Think about peoples before you post what ever comes into your head.
They are not being nasty...just stating the obvious...don-t pay the £820...
[quote][p][bold]lollypop2loza[/bold] wrote: excuse me that's my granddad and people saying nasty things id like to see you say not behind your computers my granddad had his mum taken from him when he was a 14 and him and the whole family miss her dearly. Think about peoples before you post what ever comes into your head.[/p][/quote]They are not being nasty...just stating the obvious...don-t pay the £820... settheworldonfire
  • Score: 1

5:34pm Fri 10 Jan 14

cushybutterfield says...

Shocking, It could well be a case of 'Council maladministration', the Council should waive any fee. I would make an 'official complaint' to the Council ****Ombundsman. When you think a minority of Council Tenants who have owed and not paid Thousands owed in Council rent arrears for years and it has been 'written off' by the Council, and we have also repeat 'Criminal Offenders' getting Free Legal Aid costing Thousands and yet this poor family have an inflated 'daft Council bill' asking for £82O years later, for a grave. What a disgusting Country Britain as become.
Shocking, It could well be a case of 'Council maladministration', the Council should waive any fee. I would make an 'official complaint' to the Council ****Ombundsman. When you think a minority of Council Tenants who have owed and not paid Thousands owed in Council rent arrears for years and it has been 'written off' by the Council, and we have also repeat 'Criminal Offenders' getting Free Legal Aid costing Thousands and yet this poor family have an inflated 'daft Council bill' asking for £82O years later, for a grave. What a disgusting Country Britain as become. cushybutterfield
  • Score: 3

9:57pm Fri 10 Jan 14

cromwell1599 says...

lollypop2loza wrote:
excuse me that's my granddad and people saying nasty things id like to see you say not behind your computers my granddad had his mum taken from him when he was a 14 and him and the whole family miss her dearly. Think about peoples before you post what ever comes into your head.
Just wanted to say that your grandad is one of the nicest blokes you could ever wish to meet, not seen him for years, I am guessing that Big Andy must be either your uncle or your dad !
[quote][p][bold]lollypop2loza[/bold] wrote: excuse me that's my granddad and people saying nasty things id like to see you say not behind your computers my granddad had his mum taken from him when he was a 14 and him and the whole family miss her dearly. Think about peoples before you post what ever comes into your head.[/p][/quote]Just wanted to say that your grandad is one of the nicest blokes you could ever wish to meet, not seen him for years, I am guessing that Big Andy must be either your uncle or your dad ! cromwell1599
  • Score: 1

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