Jun 16, 2021

“I almost fainted”: Calls for greater scrutiny of burial plots after incorrect grave exhumed

Cemetery burial plot

In 2019, Stephen Sedrak’s family bought six burial plots alongside each other at Melbourne’s Fawkner cemetery, in the hope it would be a place family could come to pay their respects to past generations.

In total, the plots cost about $27,000, according to 9News.

When Stephen’s uncle, Bakhit Sedrak, died in August 2019, the family was so overcome with grief they barely noticed the plot two places down was freshly laid.

However, in the following days when they visited the site, the family twigged to the error.

When Greater Metropolitan Cemetery Trust became aware the plot had been sold twice, they issued an apology acknowledging the error and reached out to the family who had bought the grave already owned by the Sedrak family.

Unsurprisingly, the family said the phone call was “devastating” and “really upset” them all.

“It was really hard to accept,” one family member told 9News.

Out of respect to the Sedraks, the family made the difficult decision to exhume the body from the grave. 

As compensation for the shocking bungle, Greater Metropolitan Cemetery Trust gave them a premium position in the cemetery.

Greater Metropolitan Cemetery Trust has acknowledged the mistake, putting it down to “human error”, and has issued an apology to the Sedrak family. They have issued the Sedrak family with an offer of compensation. The trust has undertaken a review of its operations to ensure such an event does not occur again, and has digitised sales records and introduced a new computer system.

Nigel Davies, director at Lonergan and Raven, Melbourne’s oldest funeral parlour – and also the immediate past president of the National Funeral Directors Association – told 9News mistakes do happen in the burial industry.

“I have stood at a gravesite in the country where the grave manager is insisting that there isn’t a body buried there and the person operating the digger is insisting there is. 

“The third bucketful brought up the coffin lid. At least then we could identify who was in that grave and correct the records.

“I have also had cases where I have stood with the family and they have said that is not the right grave, there is somebody else’s name on the headstone,” Davies said.

Davies believes many of the problems in Victoria’s burial industry come from the non-for-profit cemetery trusts that have a monopoly over all burials and cremations in the state.

“Every other state has competition,” Davies said. As a result of the monopoly market, the costs of burial sites and cremations are far higher in Victoria than they are in other states.

The monopoly also means cemeteries aren’t run as efficiently as they could be, Davies observed.

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  1. I would rather have a Not for Profit Trust operate our cemeteries. Interstate cemeteries are own by large corporations who also own Funeral Parlours. They are there to make a profit and they want you to use their cemeteries. Victoria is lucky that the State Government still own and operate the cemeteries through Trusts. Human error happens, but if Victoria sells their cemeteries there will be huge rises into the costs.

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