THE man who “made good” the grave in which Didcot schoolgirl Jayden Parkinson was buried by her killer has been named Gravedigger of the Year.

Jonny Yaxley, of Didcot, a gravedigger for 13 years, was awarded the title and picked up a trophy at the national Good Funeral Awards this month.

He said it was a “surreal” experience, but the awards night was “incredible”.

Mr Yaxley, 45, digs up to three graves a week at Henley Woodland Burial Ground at Rotherfield Greys.

Our top stories

He said: “It’s not the best job in the world, but it’s an honour.

“It’s the last thing you ever do for someone.

“I don’t feel pressured by it because I know I do it well.”

The Broadway resident, partner to Nicky Abbott, received a call early one December morning last year from Thames Valley Police.

Forensic officers had just uncovered the body of 17-year-old Jayden Parkinson, murdered by her boyfriend Ben Blakeley, from a grave at All Saints’ Church, Didcot.

The police asked him if he would “make good” the disturbed site.

He said: “It was an upsetting thing to do, to be honest, and I wasn’t keen on doing it, but someone had to and I knew I could do a good job.”

Mr Yaxley started grave-digging for South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) at Wallingford and Kidmore End cemeteries.

He said: “I didn’t really fancy it at first, I thought of it as quite an emotional involvement.”

But he was given training, and learnt to dig a grave using an excavator, which takes about 90 minutes.

Now, he finishes all his graves meticulously by hand, using his own, custom-made spade, with an extra long handle and flattened sides, to “chisel” down the walls.

Three years ago he set up his own freelance landscape gardening business, still digging graves on the side.

He said: “I’m happy with what I do now. Most people’s reaction when they find out what you do is ‘that’s a bit strange’.

“People know there are graves but don’t like to think there are gravediggers.”

If a funeral is to be held in the morning, he will usually dig the grave the day before, or early on the day for an afternoon ceremony.

Asked why he thought he had won his award, he said: “I’m approachable. People can speak to me.”

The key to his job, he said, is for people not to notice him: “It’s the little things, like when we take turf out we put it back in exactly the same way.”

The Good Funeral Awards are presented by judges appointed by the Good Funeral Guide, a not-for-profit consumer advice organisation.

Organiser Charles Cowling said: “Jonny Yaxley is a special person whose charm and commitment to making sure that everything is beautifully prepared on the day has made him a formidable force for good.”

Do you want alerts delivered straight to your phone via our WhatsApp service? Text NEWS or SPORT or NEWS AND SPORT, depending on which services you want, and your full name