Thursday, January 8, 2009

Blundering funeral firm buries wrong man despite vicar's protests... then secretly digs up and replaces coffin

Mourners were gathered, and family members paid their last respects as the coffin was lowered into the grave.

But the upset for Brendan Kilkelly's family was to get a whole lot worse when they learned they had buried the wrong man.

Vicar Andrew Mannings spotted that the name and age on the coffin were wrong, and also that it bore a crucifix emblem normally associated with Roman Catholic burials, not with the Anglican service he was conducting.

But, after reassurances from the undertakers, he went on with the service.

'I noticed it was a Catholic-style coffin, and my eyes dropped to the nameplate, and I thought, oh my goodness!' he said yesterday.

'I went straight to the sexton and said, "There's been a terrible mistake". But I was told that Mr Kilkelly was known by the other name as well.'

Mr Mannings said he felt he had no choice but to assume the professionals knew what they were doing. 'One has to trust that the funeral director has brought the right coffin,' he added.

He went ahead but a few days later was horrified to be told by the undertakers, Co-operative Funeralcare, that they had buried the wrong man after all.

Equally shocking was that, after waiting for the vicar and the Kilkelly family to leave, officials had hastily exhumed the body of the 62-year-old Roman Catholic man buried in error.

It was taken back to the chapel of rest and the coffin containing Mr Kilkelly, a father-of-three from Wallasey, Wirral, who died aged 55, was brought and interred instead - with no service and no one else present. Mr Mannings later contacted the family and conducted a new funeral service at Mr Kilkelly's graveside at Frankby cemetery although the relatives were too upset to attend for a second time.

Yesterday his widow Susan, 49, said: 'I'm happy with the outcome and I'd rather not pursue it further.'

The body of the second man has been cremated in accordance with his family's wishes.

Yesterday, as it emerged that the extraordinary swap may have breached the Burial Act of 1857, the sexton - the council official who authorised it - was suspended, while the funeral directors launched an urgent investigation.

Under the Burial Act, which was passed to deter grave-robbers, burial is said to have taken place once the committal is concluded.

An exhumation order is required if it is subsequently discovered that a mistake has been made and the unlawful removal of a corpse can carry a fine of up to £200.

Co-operative Funeralcare said it had applied for an order retrospectively and believed that its actions were in line with the legislation.

It insisted there had never been an attempt at a cover-up, stressing that both families had been informed within 24 hours and that its staff had acted in good faith.

A spokesman said: 'Regrettably we can confirm that as a result of an unfortunate error the wrong deceased was taken for burial.'

He added: 'We apologised to both families at the earliest opportunity.'

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