Distressed family want their son moved from Sunbury Cemetery

This is an updated report.

When Dennis Ness, 74, said a final farewell to his son James Ness on 19 January, he didn’t expect to be called to return to the cemetery three days later with news the grave had been disturbed.

However, Mr Ness has been told that work allegedly carried out by Sunbury Cemetery Trust has not only dug into 39-year-old James’ final resting place, but has damaged his coffin. Mr Ness has been given fragments of what he believes is his son’s casket.

James’ grave has been left littered with lumps of concrete, and yellow-capped steel rods protruding from the surface.

“My son’s grave should not have been touched as the soil would not have settled, I’m told it takes six months to settle,” says Mr Ness.

“When I got here there were deep holes in the top of James’s grave. They’ve been filled in now. I’m only hoping the drill has only gone through the base [foot] of the coffin, and not the middle – we wont know until they dig it up. We won’t know anything until the earth is moved. It’s all wrong.”

Mr Ness contacted the trust which manages the Shields St cemetery to let them know what he had found. He’s also been in touch with the funeral company for advice.

Dennis Ness at his son's (James) grave.
Dennis Ness beside James’s grave at Sunbury Cemetery. Photo / Sunbury Life.

Mr Ness now want’s his son moved to Gisborne Cemetery, which will involve obtaining a licence to exhume his body, followed by a second funeral.

“He can’t stay here,” he says.

In a 31 January statement (since deleted from its website), the trust – whose members include Hume City Cllr Jarrod Bell – stated: “The trust is very concerned and alarmed that a family who buried their loved one only a week ago, in the works area, have been told by a visitor to the cemetery that their loved one’s coffin has been damaged by the capital works.

“The trust immediately halted works on hearing third-hand about this. The trust has had its operational manager, its contract manager, and other staff on site to offer the family immediate assistance and to ascertain what has happened.

“As no damage can be seen at ground level, a staged process will be undertaken to ascertain if any damage has occurred. 

“Firstly, the contractor will undertake minor digging activities around the grave site with hand tools to see if the coffin has shifted.

“If the coffin has shifted the contractor will lift the coffin with chains to provide a line of site and if this shows any damage at all the coffin will undergo an exhumation process.”

Trust members say they are “…appalled that the family has to go through this harrowing process whilst their grief is so fresh”.

James Ness took his own life at the end of December.

Remembrance Parks Central Victoria, which has overall responsibility for the Sunbury Cemetery, has been approached for comment, but is yet to respond.

MP Wendy Lovell reacts to the grave’s alleged desecration here.

A photo of James Ness, displayed with his coffin on the day of his funeral. Photo / supplied.
A photo of James Ness accompanied his coffin on the day of his funeral. Photo / supplied.