A bitter war of words has erupted over a mix-up which led to a grieving north Cumbrian family unwittingly having a funeral service for the wrong body.

One of the two elderly men involved was mistakenly buried at St Mary’s Church in Rockcliffe.

Mourners at the July 6 service were unaware the person in the coffin was a complete stranger. When the blunder was discovered, the body was exhumed - but this could not be done for nine days.

The mistake came to light on July 7 when Cumberland Infirmary mortuary staff contacted George Hudson & Sons Funeral Directors on Wigton Road, Carlisle, asking when the body of the man to be buried at Rockcliffe would be collected.

The NHS trust running the hospital says an investigation showed its staff followed "correct procedure".

But the Wigton Road funeral directors insisted mortuary staff had handed over a body other than the one they formally requested. They claim evidence proving this has now gone missing.

The businesses’s statement says: “On the day of the incident we requested the release of one particular person but the mortuary gave us another.

“George Hudson & Sons have requested on several occasions to view the CCTV footage to verify the handover and collection of the deceased and to show which members of the mortuary staff were present at the time.

"But the chief executive has stated it is unavailable, even with them knowing a major incident has occurred. We have requested copies of all the paperwork relevant to this incident.

“The body-release forms the mortuary require from us, that we pre-filled-in from our office, have gone missing from the mortuary. We question the validity of the Cumberland Infirmary’s internal investigation when there is vital evidence missing.

“We feel, as a long-established family business, that both families of the deceased’s wishes are being ignored. We have had an ongoing relationship with both families and they have had either none, or very little, communication with the Cumberland infirmary.

“This has been a very unfortunate incident. Our concerns are purely with the families and the continuing distress they have to endure as they still cannot start their grieving process.”

Trust officials dispute this, and say the funeral director’s claims are “incorrect”.

A spokeswoman said: “North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust has carried out a comprehensive investigation which includes conclusive evidence the body released to the undertaker was the body that they requested. Our findings have been shared with the appropriate regulators.

“We met with the families during the investigation to understand their wishes and have met with them since to share our findings. "The trust does not wish to comment further in line with the wishes of the families. Our thoughts are with the families at this very difficult time.”

Managers are confident procedures were undertaken correctly at the mortuary, she added.