MP demands investigation following the ‘desecration’ of Sunbury Cemetery grave

State Liberal MP Wendy Lovell spoke up for the family of James Ness, 39, this week, following reports his grave was desecrated by maintenance workers.

Lovell, who serves the Northern Victoria Region, spoke for three minutes in the Legislative Council telling the Minister for Health – Mary-Anne Thomas – that Dennis Ness, 74, returned to his son’s grave at Sunbury Cemetery three days after his funeral to find it looking like a building site.

“Imagine the horror of burying your son, and then visiting the grave a few days later to find the grave looking like a construction site and fragments from his coffin strewn across the surface,” said Lovell.

“This was not caused by vandalism, it was from work commissioned by the trust that manages the cemetery.”

Marg Lewis.

Lovell said the desecration of a grave is a “very serious” incident that could lead to fines and prison time.

“The action that I seek from the Minister is to immediately order an investigation into the desecration of the grave of James Ness, and to also examine the competency of the Remembrance Parks Central Victoria Cemetery Trust board and its chair Marg Lewis,” said Lovell.

“The Sunbury Cemetery Trust has entered into an arrangement with the Remembrance Parks Central Victoria for the management and operations, including maintenance and contracts of the Sunbury Cemetery.”

Lovell explained, as previously reported by Sunbury Life, that the Ness family of Romsey laid their son to rest on Friday 19 January 2024, and that the circumstances of James’s death were traumatic enough for the family. He took his own life in December.

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“James’s grave and the grass areas surrounding it had been dug up, and deep holes drilled into it. The holes have been filled with concrete and steel rods were protruding from them,” said Lovell.

“Mr [Dennis] Ness was convinced one of the rods had gone straight through the foot of James’s coffin, fragments of wood – that were later confirmed to be from James’s coffin – were found in the dirt on the surface of the grave.”

Lovell has published a full media statement here.

Sunbury Life has repeatedly asked Remembrance Parks Central Victoria for comment and an interview, but it has declined to comment.

Josh Bull is the MP for Sunbury and has not responded to our request for comment on this story.

Hume City Cllr Jarrod Bell, secretary of the Sunbury Cemetery Trust, did not respond to our request for an interview.

Dennis Ness at his son's (James) grave.
Dennis Ness beside his son’s grave at Sunbury Cemetery. Photo / Sunbury Life.
The grave of James Ness with metal rods protruding from the surface.
The grave of James Ness with metal rods protruding from the surface. Photo / Sunbury Life.

PRESS RELEASE

The Sunbury Cemetery Trust published the following press release on its website after revelations that the grave of James Ness had been disturbed.

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Sunbury Cemetery Trust commissioned capital works in its monumental grave area.  The works involve the construction of permanent grave footings, adhering to strict Australian standards.

The goal of the works is to enhance and preserve the sanctity of the Sunbury Cemetery for future generations.

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.

These processes have been explained to the family both directly and through their funeral director. 

The Trust is appalled that the family has to go through this harrowing process when their grief is so fresh. 

The Trust has been advised that a previous contractor that they are in a legal matter with due to the adequacy of his work has raised the claim about the damaged coffin. The matter will be heard in the Magistrates Court in Bendigo in March.

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