Former gravediggers' book to tell ‘warts and all’ story

Chris Gregory, left, and Malcolm Purvis. Picture by Stuart Cobley.Chris Gregory, left, and Malcolm Purvis. Picture by Stuart Cobley.
Chris Gregory, left, and Malcolm Purvis. Picture by Stuart Cobley.
Two former gravediggers hope to tell the ‘warts and all’ story of their battles with county bosses in a new book.

Chris Gregory and Malcolm Purvis, of Berwick, were dismissed by Northumberland County Council in November 2011 and accusations made by the local authority were published in tabloid articles a year later.

They were accused of burying people in the wrong graves, conducting illegal burials and even pushing their manager into an open grave and leaving her ‘for dead’.

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None of the claims were ever proved, despite probes by Northumbria Police and the council.

Mr Gregory said: “For the past nine years we have tried every possible avenue to receive some form of apology.

“However, it has not been forthcoming despite the county council apologising to all other parties affected by its actions.

“In the winter of 2020, we both decided to write the book to inform the public exactly what we had experienced, and hopefully give us some piece of mind and closure on these unfortunate set of circumstances.”

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Mr Gregory and Mr Purvis were both arrested in 2010 over allegations they had pushed their then boss into an open grave, but police eventually decided to take no action.

The pair were sacked for ‘gross misconduct’ and a year later, in November 2012, the county council warned families with loved ones in Berwick’s two cemeteries that ‘serious errors’ may have led to them being buried in the wrong place or given the wrong headstone.

A 2014 probe later found no-one had been buried in the wrong spot, while no evidence was found to back up claims they had facilitated illegal burials.

But despite this, Mr Gregory revealed the toll the experience took on his mental health.

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He said: “It does affect you, we were under the doctor for health problems, we were sent to a counsellor, we were sent to a mental health nurse.

“We were drinking excessive amounts – getting up at 2am and walking to the beach for a drink is not ideal.

“If someone had said to me years ago they were suffering from depression, I would have said ‘pull yourself together’, but not now.”

He added: “The book is available from Berwick E cigs (Walkergate), T.Jay at Prior Shop (Grove Gardens, Tweedmouth) and The Riverside Cafe (Main Street, Tweedmouth). Alternatively, call me on 07376 902572 or Malcolm on 07596 891067.”

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Responding to the upcoming publication, a spokesman for the county council, which is not believed to have any intention to take legal action over the book, said: “The county council has a fundamentally different perspective on events reported in this book.

“While we wouldn’t talk about individual cases, the disciplinary processes in these matters that took place several years ago considered a number of serious issues aside from the allegations of illegal or incorrect burials.

“We expect those involved in any aspect of bereavement services to conduct themselves in an exemplary manner, and the behaviour in this case fell far short of expected standards.”