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Widow relives the moment pallbearers dropped her husband's coffin and exposed his body to mourners

A grieving widow says she is still haunted by the day her husband's coffin was dropped into his grave and his dead body was exposed to hundreds of mourners.

Debbie Swales, 52, of South West Denton in Newcastle, was forced to hold another funeral for her late husband Gavin, 55, following the incident.    

Mrs Swales could not believe her eyes when Gavin's coffin was dropped by pallbearers lowering him into his grave at Newcastle's West Road Cemetery.

Debbie Swales, 52, of South West Denton in Newcastle, was forced to hold another funeral for her late husband Gavin, 55, following the incident. The grieving mum says she is stuck in the past and is unable to move on. She is pictured beside his grave 

The coffin fell to pieces on impact, leaving the father's body on show to up to 500 people who looked on in horror.

Mrs Swales says funeral director Clark Pearson refused to accept the blame for the incident, which happened in November 2015. 

Mrs Swales said: 'I just burst into tears. The lid smashed open and the kids jumped in [to his grave]. When lifting the coffin out it just fell to bits.

'We paid extra for a solid oak coffin with strong gold handles. We found out after that it was a replica MDF coffin that just shattered when it was dropped.

'Imagine that happening to your loved one. It is not private, 400 to 500 people were able to see him laid there.'

Mrs Swales could not believe her eyes when Gavin's coffin was dropped by pallbearers lowering him into his grave at Newcastle's West Road Cemetery. Gavin Swales is pictured centre with wife Debbie, right, and brother Frankie in 2015

The pallbearers responsible then fled the scene leaving the couple's children to leap into the plot to recover Gavin's body. 

Mrs Swales and her family rearranged Gavin's funeral, which was held for a second time in two days, using a different funeral director. But for the mother-of-eight says the damage had already been done. 

The memory of her husband had been tarnished and it is something she says she can never forgive Clark Pearson for.

She said: 'When I saw Gavin he just didn't look the same. He had a cut across his face as a result of the coffin breaking. It has haunted me ever since.

'I can't get on with living my life because I've been grieving for so long. I've had no closure to this and it's just been terrible for us all. 

'It is not just the fact they dropped him. Of course it was an accident. But who would run away? You would front up to what happened and not leave the family to jump into the grave.

'We have been treated dreadfully ever since. I recall standing there and I cried and cried.'

The popular dad's ordeal started in 2013 when he was told he had a 9.5cm tumour in his right kidney. 

It was while undergoing pre-assessment tests that doctors discovered he was also battling leukaemia.

Brother Frankie stepped in to donate his bone marrow and Gavin's health started to improve. But the dad's progress was halted when he got pneumonia.

Just months after undergoing a second transplant, Gavin died - which crushed the family.

Mrs Swales, who also has six grandchildren, said: 'Gavin has left a massive gap in my life, my kids' lives. My husband was known as the gentle giant all his life. He was always there to help people.

'If I had one wish in the world it would be to bring him back. He idolised me, his children and grandchildren. He was a great man who has been robbed of his life, and I have been robbed of my time with him.'

Since the funeral, Mrs Swales and her children have received counselling, with the grieving mum saying she is stuck in the past and unable to move on.

'The last four years have been hell, she said.

'I have had many sleepless nights. Every time I see Gavin I just see the image of him in a broken coffin with people running around chaotically and family members being left to get him out.

'Without my kids and grandkids I don't know what I would have done. Instead of grieving for my husband I have had to fight for four years for justice for my Gavin.

'I haven't been to another funeral since, not even my best friend's. The kids can't go to Gavin's grave because they have flashbacks.'

In August, the family reluctantly accepted a settlement of £136,500 with the funeral directors. But a £77,000 legal bill and other fees meant the Swales family ended up with around £47,000.

Gavin Swales is pictured with Debbie and their family. The memory of her husband had been tarnished and it is something she says she can never forgive funeral firm Clark Pearson for

To this day Mrs Swales claims to have never received an apology from Clark Pearson, which is still operating in Newcastle.

She said: 'It means after all we've been through me and my children have ended up with just over £5,000 each. It's an absolute insult.

'All I've wanted is justice for my husband. It has not, and never will be, about the money. But my family has been through hell the past four years and Clark Pearson needed to realise what they have done to us.

'People say that time heals, but I don't feel any different now to what I did on the day of his funeral. I feel empty and I just can't be happy. I am always going to be carrying this sadness around for the rest of my life. I feel like half of me has gone.

'Gavin didn't deserve any of this and I'm disgusted that it has taken so long.'

Newcastle City Council took no action against Clark Pearson for the incident. 

Instead, the authority confirmed they met with all funeral directors in the area to remind them of their roles and responsibilities as a result of the incident.

A statement from Clark Pearson's solicitor said: 'Clark Pearson deeply regrets this unfortunate incident and the distress that was caused to the family.

'Settlement of the claims was agreed at mediation, so it would be inappropriate for Clark Pearson to comment any further.'

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