Grieving parents who laid their newborn baby to rest were told a mix-up at the undertaker meant they had buried the wrong child. Three days later, staff at the Co-operative Funeral Service in Watford realised their mistake when another family came to collect their baby for burial.
Funeral directors told the first set of parents of the blunder and they buried their baby in an emotional second ceremony at the cemetery in St Albans, Hertfordshire. The parents of the baby who had been mistakenly buried said their child should be left in the original plot undisturbed.
Yesterday Co-operative officials accepted full responsibility for the error. Two members of staff at the funeral parlour have been suspended while senior executives investigate. A spokesman said a breach of the company's "very strict" identity procedures had caused the muddle.
"The Co-operative Funeral Service confirms that a regrettable identification error, for which we were responsible, led to the wrong baby being buried on [last] Friday," the spokesman said. "The error became apparent on Monday when we called at Watford General Hospital to collect a second baby due for burial on Tuesday.
"The family of the first baby have requested that he should be left undisturbed. We have arranged for the second baby to be buried close by in the same cemetery, and that funeral has now taken place."
The spokesman added: "As soon as the error was spotted, we alerted the hospital and have expressed our deepest regret to both families. Such incidents are extremely rare but when they do happen are deeply distressing for all."
West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust said staff at Watford General Hospital had been supporting the families through "a very distressing experience".
The hospital had worked with the undertaker for many years and "always found them helpful and professional", the spokesman added.
A mistake in 1997 by the Co-operative Funeral Service led to a worker being dismissed after a family in Nottingham cremated an empty coffin.
After the Alder Hey hospital scandal in 1999, when it was revealed a doctor had taken dead children's organs without the consent of parents, many second funerals were held.