Thomas Bell (pictured right) died in 2005 aged 63. His family were told his body was not under the headstone they had mourned at for 17 years after the death of his wife Hilda (pictured left) and her final wish to be buried next to her husband

EIGHT graves have now been dug up in bid to locate the final resting place of a father whose family have mourned at the WRONG headstone for 17 years

  • Gravediggers told the family a stranger was buried under the headstone
  • Thomas Bell’s coffin has still not been found in the County Durham graveyard
  • His wife, Hilda, died in June; her final wish was to be buried next to her husband
  • Hilda’s body is still at the funeral home six weeks after her death  

A family began a desperate search for their father’s body after they were told a stranger was buried under the headstone they mourned at for almost two decades. 

Brother Tom Bell, 58, and his sisters Denise, 59, and Debra, 53, received a call from gravediggers four weeks ago telling them someone else was buried in their father’s grave. 

The siblings had mourned the loss of their father, Thomas Bell, at his headstone for 17 years following his death aged 63 in 2005 – and said the graveyard had ‘bodies all in the wrong places’, calling it ‘a mess’.  

Tom, Denise and Debra lost their mother Hilda on June 19 – and her final wish was to be buried alongside her loving husband.

Thomas Bell (pictured right) died in 2005 aged 63. His family were told his body was not under the headstone they had mourned at for 17 years after the death of his wife Hilda (pictured left) and her final wish to be buried next to her husband

Son Tom Bell said it was ‘absolutely awful’ after gravediggers said his father’s body was not in his grave. Eight graves have now been dug up to find the body. Pictured: Tom as the grave where the family thought their father was buried 

But six weeks after her death – and after eight graves have been dug up at Holy Trinity Church in Wingate, County Durham – Thomas’ coffin is still missing and Hilda’s body is being held at a funeral home. 

Their son Tom, who lives near Easington, said: ‘We’re living on a day-to-day basis, hoping every phone call is the one to say he has been found.

‘We can’t grieve for our mum because we’re up in arms dealing with this every day.

Brother Tom Bell, 58, and his sisters Denise, 59, and Debra, 53, received a call from gravediggers four weeks ago telling them someone else was buried in their father’s grave. Above: the gravestone pictured before it was removed ahead of Hilda’s funeral

Tom said: ‘They’re going to have to start digging down to check the name plates on every coffin. There are bodies all in the wrong places, it’s a mess.’ Pictured: the plot at Holy Trinity Church in Wingate, County Durham

‘She deserves to be buried alongside with dad but we don’t even know where he is, and the poor soul has been in a funeral home for six weeks now.’

Hilda died aged 79 from COPD. The family hoped to lay her to rest alongside her husband at Holy Trinity Church after a funeral service on July 1 but instead had to return her body to the funeral home.   

Tom added: ‘They’ve already dug up eight graves and still can’t find him – it’s absolutely awful.

Thomas Bell’s wife Hilda is still being held at the funeral home six weeks after her death. The family want to lay her to rest beside her husband at the Holy Trinity Church in County Durham (pictured above)

‘They’re going to have to start digging down to check the name plates on every coffin. There are bodies all in the wrong places, it’s a mess.’  

A spokesperson for the Durham Diocese, who look after burials at the Wingate graveyard, said: ‘We recognise the pain and distress that the families are going through and continue to pray for them at this difficult time.

‘The Diocese of Durham is working with the appropriate legal authorities to ensure that this sad situation is resolved as a matter of the upmost urgency.’

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By Jon Doe