The Good Funeral Guide Blog


Monday, 14 November 2011

We don’t often flag up Co-op cockups on this blog any more because they dim our spirits. We’d rather spend our time looking for people to praise. Anyway, for what it’s worth: 

A family is refusing to pay for a “funeral from hell” for their mother after a catalogue of problems – including the grave being dug too small. 

Undertakers have been accused of trying to force the coffin of Maureen Shelton, 62, into the grave at Primrose Lane in Huntingdon and then advising the family to go away and come back when it was buried. 

Now her family are refusing to pay Anglia Co-operative Funerals for the £2,600 funeral and have had bailiffs sent round in an attempt to recover the money. [Source

No details of the catalogue of problems. A commenter on this story alleges: 

It appears that Coop funeral service has not improved.My Dad died in December 2003,and we employed the Coop for the funeral ,he had lived in the same house for 63 years so we asked for him to be taken from there to the crematorium withe the family following.When we got to the crem I was approached by the funeral director and told there had been a mistake and they had brought the wrong body.They suggested we carry on with the service whilst they went back to swap the bodies.This was obviously refused so we went back to the chapel of rest but rather than a sedate and peaceful final ride for Dad it was more like a race at about 70mph as all other funerals booked for that chapel had to be delayed.The Coop did not charge us for the funertal but did not offer any compensation for the upset and distress,and thoughorly ruined the final farewell to my Dad.

17 comments on “Cockup

  1. Thursday 17th November 2011 at 3:32 pm

    I don’t know why your surprised by these comments Michael, if your a frequent visitor here you will know we try to avoid self promoting homilies and go a little deeper.

    We cannot be alone in suffering from human error. Would either you or David care to share an instant where something has gone wrong that was your fault, or has this never happened?

  2. Thursday 17th November 2011 at 1:30 pm

    I’m a bit suprised by some of these comments, firstly I always measure and re measure the coffin once in my posession and our grave diggers are very good and always allow a reasonable margin of error in any case. I would have thought that anybody who only allows a couple of inches leeway is asking for trouble. Ultimately anything untoward that happens on a funeral always reflects badly on the funeral director and it’s our job to ensure that every base is covered and checked. I realise this is arduous at times but the alternative is even worse!

  3. Wednesday 16th November 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Thank you, David, that’s valuable.

  4. Wednesday 16th November 2011 at 7:27 pm

    As an independent, I can tell you what I do. I measure the coffin, adding 6 inches to the length, 4 to the width. This is the size we communicate to the grave digger. If I have any doubt, we go along and measure the grave ourselves. In reality, we nearly always do this, unless the coffin is a small one. In over thirty years as a funeral director, not once has this happened to me. As with most things funeral, a little care saves a lot of distress.

  5. Jonathan

    Wednesday 16th November 2011 at 3:34 pm

    When I was a bricklayer I’d never butter a cut brick before trying it dry in its place and trimming it if necessary. That’s common sense to me, but you can’t take the empty coffin to the cemetery and try it for size, can you. So I’d say Rupert’s right on this one, that you just have to hold your breath whether you’re the co-op or a proper funeral director.

  6. Tuesday 15th November 2011 at 11:48 am

    We’re doing a funeral with a family this Friday in Cardiff who were so put off by the Co-op that they are going to do it all themselves. Green Willow of Cardiff (my suggestion) were too busy but are kindly helping out with an estate car. The coffin is coming direct from English Willow Coffins. As to graves that don’t fit. We’ve had one in Cardiff owing to wrong coffin dimensions given by guess who?!

  7. Tuesday 15th November 2011 at 11:33 am

    Or at least I would if it wasn’t a free paper…

  8. Tuesday 15th November 2011 at 11:30 am

    I hadn’t read it like that I must admit. I read it as the £2600 was the total bill before any “discount” was given. Who knows? I agree that it’s a great story to sell a paper though.

  9. Tuesday 15th November 2011 at 11:21 am

    It’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation. Human error happens in all jobs, including this one. We don’t keep coffins in stock, all of ours are biodegradable and so, well, degrade. Sometimes it is necessary to give a measurement before we actually have it in our hands. Of course we add a bit on for the gravedigger, but sometimes, shit happens. When it does, the responsibility rests with us, and we accept it. I’m no fan of the way the Co-op does things, I just think that sometimes angry and deeply distressed families sell papers, even when it’s a non story like this.
    What is interesting is that even with waiving their professional fees, the bill still comes in at £2, 600. Now that’s the real story.

  10. andrew plume

    Tuesday 15th November 2011 at 10:00 am


    actually – I DO feel that you should continue to highlight the cock ups caused by the ‘peoples undertaker'(sic), whether they’re depressing or not – it’s extremely important

    I have to admit that I very much ‘bang the drum’ re funeralcare and other co-ops to anyone and everyone that I can – my point is, is that ‘they cannot go around again’, it has to be dead right (sorry), there’s no second chance, that’s why in 95%+ of all instances, the independent way is the only way to go


  11. andrew plume

    Tuesday 15th November 2011 at 9:54 am


    Charles, from memory this is the third time that Anglia Co-operative Funerals have made an appearance in your blog, they seem to be less blameless this time but since they probably bought in the coffin from their own in-house manufacturer, they really should have been aware of the overall sizes etc etc.

    No doubt just another minor (sic) hiccup caused by a less than fully qualified funeral arranger. Question – would this have happened if a long-experienced owner managed small independent had made all of the arrangements – probably not, I suspect……………I’d better not start on the issue of funeral arrangers employed by the corporates


  12. Tuesday 15th November 2011 at 9:43 am

    Eck Rupert, I disagree with you for once. I don’t think there’s any excuse for a coffin not going down a grave. This is not something we (as FDs) can blame on anyone else, not even the supplier. If they send the wrong size, it is up to us to notice and to measure the coffin they do send, and to communicate that size to the gravedigger.

    Solution? Never, ever give a size to a gravedigger until you are in possession of the coffin and have measured it personally (and added a bit, it you’re round here!)

  13. Tuesday 15th November 2011 at 9:30 am

    Thanks Rupert.

  14. Tuesday 15th November 2011 at 9:07 am

    If it is too small, it is always by a fraction. The coffin will usually have started it’s descent and has become lodged part way down. At this point the gravedigger steps forward, beads of sweat beginning to appear on his forehead, and tries with the edge of a shovel, to clear between the coffin and the side. It is a moment of high tension all round. If this fails, then yes, the family are invited to return after it has been sorted. It happens. We had this trouble once not due to us giving the wrong size, or the gravedigger digging to the wrong size, but the coffin supplier sending the wrong size. In this case the people’s undertaker are relatively blameless. It mentions other things in this ‘funeral from hell’, well..

  15. Monday 14th November 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Rupert, thanks for that. As an undertaker you tell whoever how big to dig the grave. When it’s too small, how do you deal with the situation so that the mourners are not shocked into high dudgeon? Shirley is American and may be imagining someone jumping on the coffin or something. What do you really do?

  16. Monday 14th November 2011 at 9:17 pm

    A fairly common problem that happens to everyone. And Shirley, with determination.

  17. Monday 14th November 2011 at 8:05 pm

    My goodness. How do you “force” a coffin into a grave that’s too small?

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