Family feud over a Witchford grave ends with woman being told she cannot share her dead partner’s resting place

Witchford Village Sign

Witchford Village Sign - Credit: Archant

A family row over a grave has led to a grieving woman being banned from sharing the plot with her dead partner when she dies.

A leading churchman has ruled in his capacity as a judge of the Church of England’s Consistory Court that he will not permit the woman to be buried in the grave of her late partner of 25 years, who she has mourned for nearly three decades.

Judge Leonard QC, who is chancellor of the Diocese of Ely, accepted the prospect of a lonely grave, apart from the man she loved “terrifies” Jennifer Buckley.

But bowed to the wishes of the dead man’s grown up daughters by his first partner, who he lived with earlier, but who died after having six children with him.

The daughters told the judge that if the body of Jennifer Buckley, who visits the grave weekly, was buried with their father, Nathan Buckley, the family would feel uncomfortable visiting the grave. The presence of the other body would “amount to a betrayal of their mother” and it would be “disrespectful” to their mother.

The challenge to Ms Buckley’s request to reserve a space in the grave was led by Olive Boswell supported by three sisters and other family members.

The judge said that Mr Buckley died in 1986 aged 66. Jennifer Buckley, had lived with him since 1961. They began living together when he was 40 and she was 17. And when he died she had acted as his next of kin at the time of his burial in St Andrew’s churchyard at Witchford. They also had six children together.

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However, the judge said that in fact Olive Boswell was Mr Buckley’s true next of kin. She was his eldest daughter by, his first partner Violet Buckley, who died in 1957 at the age of 32. Violet Buckley is also buried in St Andrew’s church yard though in a different grave.

Ms Boswell claimed that Jennifer Buckley had caused “untold rifts and misery” within the family.

But Rod Buckley, one of Jennifer Buckley’s sons, who made the application to the court on his mother’s behalf told the judge of the anguish his mother would be caused if her application to reserve a space in the grave was refused.

The judge said: “In a letter from Rod Buckley he explained that his mother, who is not in the best of health, wishes to be laid to rest with her husband/partner, and the thought that she will not be terrifies her.”

In refusing Jennifer Buckley permission to reserve space in the grave the judge said that in such circumstances when there are no written instructions as to the wishes of a deceased person then the wishes of their personal representative should be put first in respect of the grave.

He said that after considering all the views put forward during the case and giving due weight to the views of Olive Boswell as next of kin he considered that the dispute between the parties “weighs in favour of non-intervention” and for this reason he would not grant Jennifer Buckley’s request.

He continued: “In reaching the decision that I have, I have at all times been fully aware of the pain and anguish Jennifer Buckley will suffer from an adverse finding and she has the sympathy of the court.

“However, in a case where there are high emotions on both sides, it is paramount that I allow the legal considerations to lead me to what I judge is the correct decision.”

He added: “It is no part of my duty to reach any decision as to where the rights and wrongs lie in the division which has arisen between the two families, nor do I need to do so in order to reach my decision.”