Whangarei District Council apologises to whānau after grave desecrated

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen
  • Northland

The Whangarei District Council say they will work alongside cultural advisors to review their current cemetery policies.  This comes after a whānau discovered their loved ones grave had been desecrated by council staff.

Its been 20 years since Levi Bucknell's passing, now, a family's grief has been unearthed again.

Sister, Jane Bucknell says, "That's your connection to that person, that's a physical space to express your grief and aroha."

Levi's father found the grave had been tampered with, plants and adornments were removed and plywood put on top where dirt from an adjacent plot was placed. 

He dropped to his knees as he wept for his son.

"He was just extremely distraught, and then he was filled with rage, extremely angry that someone had tampered with his sons grave," says Bucknell.

Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai first heard of the news on Friday when Māori Television made contact and has since apologised to the family.

"I can't imagine the pain that that's caused and I unreservedly apologise to the whānau....what the staff were trying to do is put another body into a grave adjacent to Levi."

When the whānau approached council workers at the site they said the removal of the items was for health and safety reasons.

The whānau then asked why the council didn't contact them.

"He said he tried to contact our whānau and when she asked how he said he looked in the phone book but couldn't find any Bucknells and that's a lie because there's two Bucknell names in the Whangārei phone book.  My grandfather and my cousin," says Bucknell.

"From what I understand there were attempts made to contact the whānau but I don't- and again I haven't spoken to staff at this point but I did a quick search and there are two Bucknells" says Mai.

The whānau are asking for the cemetery policies to be reviewed to allow whānau a better understanding of the rules in a public cemetery. 

"The councils, local governments can basically do what they like with your loved ones' grave sites.  They're not legally required your permission to remove anything from the grave," says Bucknell.

"We can't make it right but hopefully we can make it better." says Mai.

The council will work alongside cultural advisors to review their policies.