Vicar apologises for burial mix-up

A vicar apologised to a Church of England court today for a "foolish mistake" which led to a murder victim being buried in the wrong grave.

The court, sitting at St John's Church in Walsall Wood, West Midlands, was convened to hear a petition for the body of Mr Hastelow to be exhumed and reinterred in a different grave.

Judge Marten Coates, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfield, adjourned his decision on the petition until next week after hearing how the plot had been reserved by widowed parishioner Jean Best.

Mrs Best wished to be buried alongside her late husband and was granted a faculty - or official permission - by the Church, reserving the adjoining plot at Walsall Wood churchyard.

But the body of Mr Hastelow - who was unlawfully killed in Majorca in 2008 - was then buried in the reserved plot on Monday November 9 2009.

That burial followed a lengthy campaign by family members for Mr Hastelow's body to be exhumed from a cemetery in Spain and flown back to the UK.

Giving evidence to the court, Rev Carter acknowledged that his error had caused considerable grief to both families and was entirely his fault.

"It was my responsibility to go to the churchyard on the previous Friday and mark the plot where Mr Hastelow should have been buried, and I forgot to do so.

"The consequence of this was that the gravediggers quite innocently went to what they thought was the next available plot and prepared the grave there.

"Since I did not take the funeral service for Mr Hastelow, I did not discover the mistake until I visited the churchyard on Tuesday.

"I would like to make it clear that I accept full responsibility for this foolish mistake - it was not the fault of any other person or party."

The vicar, who met both families to apologise immediately after the incident, added: "I would like to offer my sincere apologies to the families of the late Mr Michael Best and the late Daniel Hastelow for the grief and stress my failure has caused."

Mr Hastelow's mother, Susan, also gave evidence to the court, describing him as a lovely son and saying she did not want to see his body exhumed.

"He died tragically and I wanted him, obviously, to rest in peace," she said.

The petition was presented to the court by the Archdeacon of Walsall after failed attempts to find a solution acceptable to both families.

Judge Coates, who heard that double-depth graves cannot be dug at the churchyard because of the high water table, was asked to consider allocating a plot at the foot of Mr Best's grave to Mrs Best as an alternative to ordering Mr Hastelow's exhumation.

The judge, who conceded that his eventual decision would inevitably cause upset to one of the families, will announce his ruling at Warwick Crown Court on 6 April.