Burial blunder leaves family distraught

FAMILY PLOT: (back) Wayne Learmonth and Craig Learmonth, (front) Vicki Learmonth, Sharon Skeet and Donna Learmonth.
FAMILY PLOT: (back) Wayne Learmonth and Craig Learmonth, (front) Vicki Learmonth, Sharon Skeet and Donna Learmonth.

A grieving daughter has been left "appalled" after a council blunder led to an outsider being buried in a family plot beside her mother.

Donna Learmonth and her family buried the ashes of Marjorie "Bobbie" Learmonth in a carefully chosen plot at Shannon Cemetery in March.

With money inherited from her mother, Ms Learmonth also bought the neighbouring plot for the ashes of a stillborn son, and for herself, her husband and their daughter.

But Ms Learmonth said the family were distraught after finding out a friend of her mother's had since been buried in the spot they had reserved.

"I was absolutely gutted, appalled," she said.

"People know how important it is where you bury family. My sisters and brothers cannot believe what has happened.

"I would not have considered [buying the plot] if it had not been right next to mum," she said.

"It was a place for our daughter to go next to her grandparents. My daughter and mum had a special bond. Mum would be turning if she knew what was happening."

Too upset to contact Horowhenua District Council, Ms Learmonth said her husband, Steve Manson, called and was told it had been an administrative error.

The council had apologised and offered several options: a refund of the plot charge and provision of another plot free of charge; move her mother's ashes to another plot so the family could have one next to her; or make changes to Mrs Learmonth's plot so it could be used as a family plot.

Ms Learmonth said moving her mother was "not an option".

She asked for compensation but she and the council did not reach an agreement and the matter ended up in the hands of lawyers.

The council's final offer was to refund the $980 plot purchase price and allocate another plot to the family free of charge but, "we are not prepared to make ex-gratia payments either towards your legal fees or with respect to compensation", council chief executive David Ward wrote in a letter.

The daughter of the woman mistakenly buried in the Learmonths' plot said she was told about the error last week but was adamant her mother's ashes should not be moved.

"My heart was in my mouth," she said.

"It must have been gut-wrenching for Donna. I feel like we have stomped on her ground. We are still raw about mum."

Horowhenua District Council Mayor Brendan Duffy said there was no need for compensation.

"It is a matter of finding a solution, not through the media.

"On rare occasions these things happen and you find the appropriate solution, but being asked to front up with buckets of money does not solve the problem."

Mr Ward said further discussions were taking place to try to find an amicable solution.

The Dominion Post