A Church of England rector has apologised to a widow who was sent photographs of her late husband's grave after it was reopened to check who was buried in the plot.

The Diocese of Lichfield said the unusual action had been taken with the agreement of the family of George Hill because his relatives believed he had been laid to rest in a different plot.

But a spokesman for the diocese confirmed that the Rector of Armitage, near Rugeley, Staffordshire, had since apologised to Mr Hill's family after photographs of his coffin's name-plate, which they had requested, were posted through his widow's letterbox.

Mr Hill, from Rugeley, was buried in the churchyard of St John the Baptist Church in Armitage in February. The diocesan spokesman said: "For some reason, the family of Mr Hill refused to accept what they were told as to where the burial had taken place and had come to the conclusion that the coffin had actually been buried in a different plot within the churchyard.

"They would accept no assurances from the church as to where the burial had actually taken place. The family were deeply distressed because of their belief that the grave was in a different place."

The Revd David Thomas, the Rector of Armitage, then agreed with the family that the only way to satisfy their concern and prove the location of the grave was to re-dig it to the level of the coffin so that the name-plate could be read.

The spokesman went on: "The excavations showed that the coffin was where the church had said it was all along.

"The rector took photos of the name-plate and the area surrounding the grave to allow its position to be clearly shown.

"He informed the family that he had done this, that the grave was in the position the church had said it was in and that photos were available."

The rector then thought that this had resolved the issue, the spokesman said, but a short while later the family requested copies of the photos and they were then posted through the letterbox at the widow's home.

"In addition, the Archdeacon of Lichfield, the Venerable Chris Liley, has spoken to the family in depth and has apologised to them that the excavation of the coffin took place without the family being informed so they could be present; and has also apologised to them that the photos were not handed over in person but were posted through a letterbox," the spokesman added.