Cemetery worker abused position: Ombudsman

A former Victorian council cemetery worker should be referred to police after pocketing cash payments, performing unlicensed exhumations and burying a woman in the wrong plot, the Ombudsman says.

Darren Bock was employed by Mildura Rural City Council as a gravedigger and then a Cemetery Team Leader at the Nichols Point and Murray Pines cemeteries between 1993 and 2018.

Deborah Glass

The Ombudsman’s report  tabled in Parliament on Wednesday found the employee took money that was never paid to the Mildura Cemetery Trust, created fake receipts, received cash payments on the side from funeral directors and mismanaged record keeping about where people were buried.

He also exhumed four bodies apparently without a license or regard to OHS requirements, including a woman buried in the wrong plot and a man whose remains were required for DNA testing.

In the case of the latter, a witness described how Mr Bock sifted through the bones and “and plucked this bone out from around the bloke’s waist area”.

Mr Bock abused his position and the trust placed in him, Ombudsman Deborah Glass said.

“The community placed trust in this employee who was paid to maintain professional standards and public health in what are sacred and sensitive places,” Ms Glass said.

“This matter goes to heart of the trust we place in public servants.

“People involved in the emotional process of burying a loved one should not have to face the added burden of those in charge making careless mistakes, breaking the law or behaving in a manner disrespectful of the deceased.”

She has recommended referring the man to Victoria Police and improving governance training and processes for cemeteries.

Buried in the wrong plot

The report said a woman was buried in the wrong plot because of an error by Mr Bock and the woman’s daughter (Ms B) was traumatised by seeing her mother (Mrs A) being buried in the wrong grave.

“The Cemetery Officer said that during the funeral on 26 September 2015, Ms B realised her mother was being buried in the wrong plot and was so upset she needed to be carried away,” the report states.

“A few days later, during the exhumation, Mrs A’s family had to face a second burial, including the likely distress of accompanying the coffin as it was moved to the correct plot.

Mr Bock also sold memorial chairs made by his relative to the families of people who had died for $1,000 and gave them receipts on cemetery letterheads although the proceeds never went to the Trust. The report says 175 of the chairs were installed at the cemetery.

“The Trust did not receive any income for any chairs sold by Mr Bock, having assumed that the seats were being donated by the families of persons interred in the cemeteries,” the report says.

He also received payments from funeral directors for providing cemetery services that should have been done by a different person, such as $150 for lifting the lids of graves for which funeral directors would have paid a stonemason $350, the investigation found.

Council apologises

Council and the Trust have apologised to families affected by Mr Bock’s conduct.

“Both Council and the Trust are committed to working together … to clarify and improve the governance arrangements around the Nichols Point and Murray Pines cemeteries,” Mildura Council CEO Sarah Philpott and Mildura Cemetery Trust Chair Min Poole said in a letter to the Ombudsman.

Ms Glass said the behaviour of Mr Bock, who resigned in 2018, was able to flourish because of inadequate supervision, and also recommended that Council consider disciplinary action against Mr Bock’s manager.

This matter goes to heart of the trust we place in public servants

The Ombudsman noted the concerns were first raised by a whistleblower and she thanked them and encouraged others to speak up if they felt “in your gut” that something was amiss in their workplace.

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