A world-renowned exhumer who is set to remove bodies from ‘underwater’ graves at Ayr Cemetery believes his work can end the suffering of families.
Peter Mitchell says he will treat each of the deceased as if they were his own, as he made a sincere promise to make the unique works with “respect and care”.
The chief exhumor will bring over 35 years of experience to the job when he begins to exhume 126 bodies from the extension of South Ayrshire’s largest cemetery.
The best specialist will be joined by a small team of three people who will take the greatest care in caring for their loved ones.
In an exclusive interview with Ayrshire live at Ayr County Buildings, Mr Mitchell revealed the delicate nature of the work as he seeks to reassure worried families.
He said: “Essentially, this project is about care and respect, treating each person as an individual and achieving what the family wants.
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“We will treat each deceased as if they were our own, and in doing so I believe we will help ease the pain families are feeling.”
Although far from his home in Kent – exactly 800km – the best exhumer will find himself in familiar land having traveled the world to exhume bodies, visiting cemeteries in Egypt and Indonesia along the way.
The wanted expert also oversaw a major project to remove 15,000 bodies from St Pancras in London during the completion of a new station.
Each job to remove the deceased proved to be complex.
But in Ayr, he arrived in the eye of a storm with distraught families after months of prolonged agony.
Mr Mitchell continued: ‘Where this project differs is the fact that these people all passed away relatively recently, we have bereaved families who are still grieving and never imagined it would be necessary or desirable to exhume their relatives. a.
“It’s not something they want to happen and it’s very painful even to consider that your loved one is going to move.
“It is also very distressing to think that your loved one is potentially submerged in water. That is the main difference between this and many other exhumations and projects.
Mr Mitchell is spending two weeks talking to distraught families to explain the process and preparing the site with a set of portable welfare buildings to be erected; a dumpster for general waste and reservoirs to store water as it is pumped out of each grave.
The area will be transformed into a “construction site” as work takes place six days a week, with each room being treated individually.
Despite pleas from families who want to be present during the exhumation of their loved ones, Mr Mitchell insists that no one can be present at the site.
He said: ‘I have worked with many people and undertaken many exhumations and it is best that they do not come for their own welfare but also from a health and safety point of view . We are trying to do a job and we need space to do it.
“One reason could be that they want to see that I treat their loved one with care and respect.
“And other people said to me, ‘Is it really my loved one who’s going to be put back in their room or am I going to mistake them for someone else?’
“People should accept my guarantee as a professional with some experience in this area.
“That yes, I will treat their loved one with the utmost respect and certainly will not confuse anyone at all.”
Exhumation work at Ayr Cemetery is expected to take place throughout the summer, with Mr Mitchell keen to take advantage of the ‘driest months’.
But he fears delays to the works are a possibility, with not all families responding to the council’s call for families to allow their loved ones to be exhumed.
He added: “We need sheriff’s permission to exhume bodies, so we need to know for all vaults who is willing to give written consent to the exhumation.
“The council is reaching out to all families, many have responded, we are meeting families and that is very good. But we haven’t heard from a few families.
“We have to get through this period and we communicate with everyone and obtain the appropriate legal authority to do the work.
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