Vic grave worker 'illegally' dug up bodies

Christine McGinn
A Victorian cemetery worker has been accused of digging up bodies and allowing multiple burials

A daughter who watched her mother being buried in the wrong plot in regional Victoria had to be carried away before returning days later to lay her to rest in the correct grave.

Former Mildura Cemetery Trust worker Darren Bock mixed up two plots, then had the woman's body dug up - without an exhumation licence - and moved at Murray Pines Cemetery in September 2015, a report tabled to state parliament on Wednesday revealed.

An exhumation licence is required to dig up a body.

"Conducting an exhumation without a licence is a criminal offence ... and is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment," Ombudsman Deborah Glass' report states.

"The investigation found Darren Bock exhumed, and/or caused to be exhumed the bodily remains of four individuals, apparently without his or any other person at the trust having obtained or applied for an exhumation licence."

The report says it substantiated claims about Mr Bock, who worked at Mildura's Nichols Point and Murray Pines cemeteries from 1993 to 2018.

"(This report) concerns deeply troubling allegations made against the trust's former sexton, of potentially illegal exhumations, selling memorial chairs for personal benefit, and other misdeeds that could broadly be described as misuse of position," it reads.

It says Mr Bock, then a council employee who worked at the trust, sold memorial chairs made by his relative to deceased people's loved ones, for which the cemetery never received payment despite receipts being created with the trust letterhead.

"I'm not sure what the catalyst was, but he stockpiled some and they were everywhere at Nichols Point and they had, like, old blankets over them," a cemetery officer said.

Mr Bock, who was the cemetery team leader, allegedly received cash payments on the side from funeral directors to lift grave lids to enable the interment of more people in a single grave.

But the trust did not charge a fee for this, as it should have been done by stonemasons.

"It is highly likely that, had it not been for the disclosures made about Mr Bock's conduct, these issues and practices would have continued largely unimpeded," the report states.

The ombudsman told the local government minister, the council and the trust's chair of her intention to investigate on October 8, 2018.

But Mr Bock had already resigned from his position at the council and the trust in April.

All five recommendations made to Mildura Council and the Mildura Cemetery Trust have been accepted, and include referring Mr Bock's conduct to the police for investigation.

The trust board responded that it was "shocked and saddened by the content of this report, particularly regarding the further distress it may cause affected families".

The council said it would work with the trust and the Department of Health and Human Services to fix the historical governance issues surrounding the cemeteries.

The council and the trust have apologised to the affected families.