Stranger's ashes found buried in garden of pensioner's home of 46 years

The plaque on the casket Credit: ITV News

A pensioner has been left "absolutely baffled" after discovering the ashes of a stranger - who died in 2008 - buried in the back garden of the home he has owned for more than 40 years.

Retired community volunteer Bill Stephenson has lived in his house in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, for 46 years - but when he was checking the lawn, he spotted the mysterious box wrapped in black plastic.

When he opened it, he found a box bearing a plaque which read: "Thomas Lawson Cox, died 15 June 2008".

It was a shock. At first I thought someone had played a prank and maybe it was just the top, stuck on the soil.

Bill Stephenson, homeowner

Mr Stephenson said he had no idea who Thomas Cox might have been, and neither did his neighbours when he asked around.

Bill Stephenson said he is 'absolutely baffled' by the discovery Credit: ITV News

A check on the deeds of the house did not reveal any previous owners of that name either.

He said he believes the burial may have been carried out at night, as his garden is close to the town centre with no additional security fencing.

The ashes cannot be moved from their position until the Ministry of Justice has granted permission.

Durham Police have now managed to track down the late Mr Cox's brother, who has agreed to take them to a more suitable location.

The brother is not sure how the container ended up in this garden but is grateful he has been made aware so he can now find a more appropriate resting space in due course.

Durham Police spokesman