Leeds & West Yorkshire

Fight to exhume baby buried on Leeds university campus

Christine Bairstow
Image caption Christine Bairstow wants to move her twin sister's remains to a cemetery in Otley

A woman whose baby twin sister is buried on what is now a university campus is fighting to have her body exhumed so it can be moved.

Pauline White was interred at Woodhouse Cemetery in 1946.

Her sister, Christine Bairstow, said students treat the former cemetery, which is now part of the University of Leeds, "like a back garden".

The university said it would be problematic to locate the remains without disturbing those of others.

Pauline died from gastroenteritis and was buried in the cemetery, which records show holds 97,000 people.

The land was acquired by the university in the 1950s and given its previous name of St George's Field. Most gravestones were removed in 1968 and the area was landscaped to turn it into a green space on campus.

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Mrs Bairstow, 73, said her father came home in tears from the cemetery in 1968, having found out Pauline's stone cross had been taken away.

"When we went up there it was like a building site," she said. "I can remember I saw an old green digger and it wasn't far away from where my sister was buried.

"When they changed the name, my dad said 'my baby wasn't buried in a field, she was buried in a cemetery'."

Image caption There is a memorial tree for Pauline White near to where she is buried

Mrs Bairstow, who lives in Leeds, said as a Catholic she does not believe in moving human remains, but is pursuing it as it was her father's dying wish.

"Before my dad died he said, 'promise me you'll take your sister to safety', and I promised him I would."

She said she knows where Pauline was buried as she was given the location by the person in charge of the land 23 years ago.

Mrs Bairstow contacted the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) last year to ask for permission to exhume Pauline's remains and move them to a cemetery in Otley, West Yorkshire, where her late husband is buried. She said it wrote back to say it could not grant the licence as it did not have permission from the university.

"They [the university] took the gravestone without asking our permission, we knew nothing about it at all," said Mrs Bairstow. "The students [who use the grassy area] have caused a lot of trouble, taking drugs, playing football, I even caught one couple having sex at 1.30 in the afternoon about a foot from where my sister is buried."

Image caption Pauline died from gastroenteritis in 1946

The University of Leeds said in statement: "We sympathise with Mrs Bairstow and have encouraged her application for a licence to exhume her sister's remains, but the approval process asks us to confirm that they can be removed without disturbing other bodies and requires us to identify each set of remains.

"We can't confirm this, because of the multiple burials of babies and infants, and despite our best efforts to establish the exact location of the remains, we cannot be certain because the historical records are not accurate."

Mrs Bairstow has set up Friends of Woodhouse Cemetery group on Facebook and said she is often contacted by other families whose relatives are buried there and wish to move remains.

Image caption A few gravestones remain on the site alongside the cemetery chapel

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