THE Chancellor of the diocese of Leicester, the Worshipful Mark
Blackett-Ord, said that he prayed for the wisdom of Solomon in
adjudicating on a dispute between two bereaved families, when,
owing to a priest's mistake, a body had been buried in a grave
space reserved by another family in the churchyard of St Andrew's,
Thringstone, in the diocese of Leicester.
In July 2011, Stewart Dickson died aged 27, and his body was
laid to rest in the churchyard. His parents applied for a faculty
for the reservation of a double space immediately beside his grave.
The faculty was granted in September 2011, on condition that the
right reserved was marked and endorsed on an up-to-date churchyard
plan, and that the space was physically marked on the ground in
some small and discreet way.
In March 2013, another parishioner, David Garrett, died, aged
53, leaving a widow and a son. He, too, was buried in the
Before the service, the plot in which he was to be buried was
marked out on the ground by the Priest-in-Charge, the Revd A. J.
Burgess, who remembered doing it when there was snow on the ground.
Unfortunately, he marked the plot that had been reserved for the
parents of Stewart Dickson. When it came to the attention of the
Dicksons that the plot they had reserved had been occupied by
another, they were angry and upset. The first that the Garretts
knew that anything was wrong was long after Mr Garrett had been
laid to rest, and they were upset when it was suggested that his
body might have to be moved.
Each family had genuine sympathy for the other, but the Dicksons
felt that they were entitled to the reserved plot, and the Garretts
held to the orthodox Christian belief that once a person is buried
in consecrated ground, that should be his final resting place. Each
family held to its own position throughout the proceedings. What
was unusual about this case was that it was not the family of the
person to be moved who sought disinterment, and they positively
His task, the Chancellor said, was to exercise his jurisdiction
in a manner that created the least injustice. Mr Burgess apologised
to the families at the hearing in the Consistory Court.
The fact that the mistake in question was the fault of Mr
Burgess, and not of either of the families, gave him no assistance
in deciding this case, he said; and, in the circumstances, he
believed that justice required that the rights over the grave space
should remain those of the family that reserved the space rather
than those of the family who inadvertently but mistakenly took
possession of it as a burial space for Mr Garrett.
The remains of Mr Garrett must be moved and reinterred within
the churchyard. A grave space immediately adjoining him had been
kept vacant by the churchwardens for that eventuality. No new
funeral service was required, as Mr Garrett had already been
committed to the earth for rest.
The Chancellor ordered that the reinterment should be performed
by experienced funeral directors with a priest present. Mr Burgess
was to take no part, and the Area Dean was asked to officiate and
liaise with the family about the arrangements.
If there were lessons to be learned, they were these, the
Chancellor said: (a) the standard faculty order reserving a grave
space should in future cases state clearly that the obligation to
mark a reserved plot was an obligation on the PCC or the incumbent
and churchwardens, and not on the petitioners; and (b) no interment
in the graveyard should take place unless the officiating priest
was satisfied that the proposed grave space was not a reserved
As to the costs of the court proceedings, the Chancellor said
that Mr Burgess had "with characteristic decency" accepted that he
had been the cause of the mistake that led to the petition's being
necessary. That was reflected in an order for costs being made