Bodies were sometimes buried at Northampton cemetries in existing graves that were sold as ‘new plots’, a tribunal has heard.
The on-going hearing has pitted two gravediggers against Amey, the firm that manages Northampton cemeteries for the borough council.
The tribunal was brought because the men claim they were targeted and then dismissed by the company last November because they had blown the whistle about alleged poor practice early the same year.
They both claimed they and other workers dug up bones in plots that were supposed to be fresh ground because of mismanagement.
Bodies were also buried below the water table, they claimed, which is against burial law in case the coffins are pushed to the surface.
Roger Walker, representing the pair, said: “Bones were being lifted out of graves, placed on the side and then re-interred without going to the Ministry of Justice for approval.
“People were buried side by side instead of on top of each other and in some cases buried only inches underground because of the water table issue.”
Mr Walker alleged that some graves opposite the mausoleum in Kingsthorpe Cemetery had the sides built up “to give the impression of depth”.
Giving evidence, one of the men said yesterday: “I was picking up skulls and bringing up bones of [bodies]. I was trying to suppress it from my mind.”
The other claimant added: “This was the most depressing time of these people’s lives and the way they were treated was atrocious.
“We were digging up bones and I raised this on a regular basis but management didn’t seem to know what to do.”
Amey say that the whistleblowing disclosures had nothing to do with the men being sacked.
Managers say an anonymous member of staff tipped them off in August 2014 that workers had been impaired by drink while on duty.
“Three weeks later, all staff working that day were tested and both claimants were found to be positive for cannabis, Both were subsequently sacked.
However, it is not clear whether Amey had tried to investigate the claims about not following proper burial practice.
One of the gravediggers sat down with a manager, Kevin Kerr, and raised the issues, which were detailed over five pages. But Amey admitted that the only issue it took forward was that the claimant was made to feel uncomfortable when he was instructed to take a cheque payment from a woman who was about to bury her husband. Neither the water table concerns or bones being disturbed were escalated.
The claimants say human resources told the manager over the phone during their meeting that only one grievance issue could be escalated.
Amey says the claimant only wanted that single issue addressed. However, it is not the only time the claims were put before Amey.
Mr Walker also sent an email to the Amey contract manager, Kieron King, detailing the whistleblowing claims and calling for a meeting.
But Mr King said he took issue with the tone and refused to read them.
He told the tribunal: “I found the first email to be abusive, provocative and threatening, in my opinion.
“I consulted with HR, who said I didn’t need to read them, so I didn’t.”
The tribunal continues.