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Busybody nonsense

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

 

Christopher Harris

Some time this evening Christopher Harris will deliver the following speech to Woodstock Town Council, calling upon it to strike out its requirement that the interment of his father’s ashes be superintended by a funeral director.

Here’s another example of someone tenaciously pursuing the rights of the bereaved with an important test case. The ‘bereavement charity with expertise on relevant law’ to which Christopher refers is the AB Welfare and Wildlife Trust, which is administered by the indefatigable John Bradfield, who has done so much to establish the rights of the bereaved. Almost certainly no one alive knows the law around these matters better than John, whose book, ‘Green Burial — The DIY Guide to Law and Practice’, contributed so much to the empowerment of the natural burial movement. 

Chris will attend the meeting dressed as an undertaker in order to make the point that undertakers are self-appointed. 

WITHOUT PREJUDICE

Address to Woodstock Town Council
Tuesday 14 August, Woodstock Town Hall – Mayor’s Parlour

Dear Councillors

My father, Richard Harris, died on Wednesday 23 May this year. He resided in Woodstock for almost 40 years. In early  July I approached the Town Council with a view of interring his cremated remains in the local Lawns Cemetery, however I was informed that the Council could not deal directly with me, citing the current Cemetery Rules and Regulations .

Those Rules and Regulations state that ‘all interments and memorials must be arranged by an approved professional firm. It is apparently implicit by this statement, according to this Council that,

“A fundamental part of an interment is the actual placing of the remains in the grave or cremation plot and there is therefore an implicit requirement of Woodstock Town Council that the professional firm that is organising the funeral oversee this in order to confirm that the arrangements have been fully complied with.”

This Council is almost unique in its Rules & Regulations on this matter. The only other council which makes the same stipulation is Deddington Parish….

Parishioners have a common law right to use public cemeteries in their own areas. Those experts with whom I have consulted are of the opinion that this legal right cannot be obstructed  by demanding that undertakers be used.

There is no legal requirement to use undertakers for any purpose. The Department of Work & Pensions, clearly states that undertakers do not have to be used in order to qualify for a Funeral Payment. The ‘direct.gov’ website states that undertakers do not have to be used, so why does this town council?

The funeral industry is estimated to be worth £1billion per annum in this country. The industry is unregulated and unlicensed. There are no professional exams, nor accreditation. It begs the question, what is a ‘professional approved firm’ that this Council requires. And who decided the criteria in this Council as to which undertakers are approved? Is it the same people who, in March of this year, are minuted that the newly updated Rules and Regulations and associated documents pertaining to the Cemetery were ‘very comprehensive’? I must agree…they are…very comprehensively flawed. One of those documents is entitled ‘By-laws’, but I am reliably informed, that this Council does not have any by-laws unless they have been approved by a Secretary of State.

This Council is a member of the Institute for Cemetery & Crematorium Management. For many years, that organisation has had its ‘Charter for the Bereaved’, which sets out the highest standards for running public cemeteries. It clearly states that everyone has the right not to use undertakers.

Public cemeteries, have long been run by parish councils with few or no staff. They have never passed management responsibility to undertakers. According to those with whom I have consulted, this Council, (and Deddington’s), are believed to the first to step out of line. Therefore, this issue is of national importance.

So, what is the law? At face value, Article 3 in the Local Authorities Cemeteries Order, might appear to allow this Council to have any rules, which councillors deem desirable. However, rules are only lawful if they result in the “proper management” of the cemetery and do not breach other relevant legal principles, such as those found in the Localism Act 2011, Administration law and human rights.

The primary purpose of administration law, is to prevent all public services, including this Council, from abusing their powers. Such abuses and decisions which go beyond available powers, are unlawful or “ultra vires”.

Decisions must be impartial, fair and reasonable. Arbitrarily imposing the same rule on everyone, along with a refusal to consider individual needs, has in some circumstances, been judged by the courts as unlawful.

Local authority councillors, must avoid anything which might result is suspicion of misconduct, even when suspicions are unfounded. That may be written into the Code of Conduct which this Council has adopted under a new law. The Localism Act (2011), imposes a legal duty to promote and maintain high standards. Though this is not an accusation, some may suspect that there may be collusion between those making and those benefiting from the Rules. The very possibility of such a suspicion, is in itself, a reason to abandon the requirement to use undertakers.

Some in this Council have tried everything within their powers, perceived and actual, to prevent me from speaking this evening, and the conduct of some has, I suggest, not been befitting of someone in their position.

Selflessness

• Integrity

• Objectivity

• Accountability

• Openness

• Honesty

• Leadership

………are all principles under the Code of Conduct covered by the Localism Act (2011).

Should this Council elect to hold its discussion on Cemetery Rules & Regulations later this meeting,  ‘in Confidential’, it will leave itself open to continuing suggestion of impropriety bringing one or more of the 7 principles into question.

If this Council is minded to review, both its literature and practices, I can provide the name of a bereavement charity with expertise on relevant law, which would be willing to provide free assistance.

 In conclusion, I ask this Council to prove 7 points as documented , based on its current literature:-

(1) that it has the legitimate power to force newly bereaved individuals and families to use undertakers;

(2) that forcing everyone to use undertakers is not unlawful, according to public cemetery law, the Localism Act (2011), Administration law and principles on human rights;

(3)  that it is providing a sensitive “bereavement service” which reflects the same principles as those underpinning our health and welfare services. That means providing choices and opportunities, by being creative, flexible and empowering. It also means using sensitive language;

(4) that parishioners buy plots and are the owners of those plots;

(5) that it is correct to state that parishioners only own memorials and monuments for 25 years;

(6) that it can charge anyone who asks to look at the legally protected burial register; and lastly

 (7) that its “by-laws” really are by-laws, by making available the decision letter of the relevant Secretary of State.

It would be remiss to end my oration without mentioning my dad, a former resident and elector. It is my family’s hope that he’ll be on a corner some time again soon.

If not, for £70 more than what it will cost to have him interred in Woodstock, I can have his ashes blasted into Space on 10 October 2012, boldly going where no Harris has gone before… The price includes a tour of the launch pad, attending a memorial service and a DVD of the ‘event’.

RIP, Dad. Much missed and much-loved. xxx

The GFG is sending a reporter to this event and will report back tomorrow. 

13 comments on “Busybody nonsense

  1. CH

    Tuesday 5th March 2013 at 10:37 am

    This overly-protracted matter is edging towards a crescendo. Can’t say too much but a few weeks from now will change the course of this once and for all.
    Some in Oxfordshire have much explaining to do…

  2. CH

    Friday 19th October 2012 at 10:19 am

    On Wednesday night, I m pleased to report, Deddington Parish Council dropped their ‘rule’ for a funeral director to be employed to arrange and oversee interments.
    Two councils down, how many more to go???

    I doubt either Deddington or Woodstock will admit they have acted unlawfully but time will tell.

  3. Sunday 30th September 2012 at 10:14 pm

    Every local parish or town council I ever attended, read or heard about, behaved exactly like this. Usually almost no-one actually elected them – the kind of person who wants the job fights to be co-opted. These local plonkers ‘serve’ for decades – usually acting as if they rule the local community. Thankfully no-one really takes much notice of them or their petty power games. Mostly their self obsessed twittering is simply ignored. What a shame that in your case this lot actually did have the power to upset you.

  4. CH ak 'The Prat In The Hat'

    Sunday 30th September 2012 at 8:51 pm

    An update…

    My father was interred on the afternoon of Saturday 25 August: present were my brother and his girlfriend, my mother, my daughter and myself.
    A councillor, from Woodstock Town Council, waited outside of the gates and served no purpose whatsoever. There was no confirmation of any death/cremation/swimming certificate against the name on the casket.

    Since then, the Minutes of the Town Council meeting I addressed on Tuesday 14 August have been released and approved. Those of you whom have have followed this story will recall what I said. A verbatim transcript is printed earlier in this thread. The part which is highly significant is the following:

    “Local authority councillors, must avoid anything which might result is suspicion of misconduct, even when suspicions are unfounded. That may be written into the Code of Conduct which this Council has adopted under a new law. The Localism Act (2011), imposes a legal duty to promote and maintain high standards. Though this is not an accusation, some may suspect that there may be collusion between those making and those benefiting from the Rules. The very possibility of such a suspicion, is in itself, a reason to abandon the requirement to use undertakers.”

    The Minutes from that meeting state:
    “Cllr Cooper noted that a member of the public has accused the council of collusion in public and proposed that WTC bring this matter to the attention of the council’s solicitors to determine whether it should ask for a rebuttal.

    RESOLVED
    The clerk will copy the statement made by the member of the public to the council’s solicitors and ask them to advise the council as to whether they recommend that any action is taken.”

    So, instead of offering an unreserved apology for the distress Woodstock Town Council caused my family for 7 weeks, it chose to go on the offensive with a view to taking legal action against me. In doing so, it has wrongly and libellously accused me of making an accusation against them which I clearly have not made. Apparently “though this is not an accusation…” is accusatory!

  5. Wednesday 15th August 2012 at 8:33 pm

    It’s sad but bureaucracy like this is not unusual. Many cemeteries and crematoria have a rule that ‘the funeral director shall provide sufficient staff to carry/lower/ensure safe delivery of the coffin to its final resting place’. It’s almost impossible to police, and the easiest way around it is to ignore it. Least said, soonest mended. Most of the staff at the places where the rules exist are unaware of them anyway. IMHO Christopher would be best to dig a hole, inter the ashes, fill it in, then say “oh, can’t I do that, sorry, oops. Better get an exhumation order then, perhaps the council would like to explain why it’s needed.”

    • Jonathan

      Friday 17th August 2012 at 12:45 pm

      Andrew, I think your solution is neatest of all, especially as it will most likely take longer than the lifetime of the Council to obtain an exhumation order!

  6. Wednesday 15th August 2012 at 6:33 pm

    […] quick update on the attempt by Christopher Harris to persuade Woodstock council to abandon its requirement that  ‘all interments [of ashes] […]

  7. Wednesday 15th August 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the the universe

  8. Tuesday 14th August 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Well done for challenging this daft regulation. I have no qualifications – but managed to arrange and conduct thousands of funerals in my long career. Quite why you would need me (or someone like me) to inter ashes is beyond me.

    If you cannot get them to agree that their rule is pointless, then I will willingly come and ‘supervise’ free of charge.

  9. Tuesday 14th August 2012 at 10:11 pm

    The same thing has happened at a local cemetery close to us – except the family were not only told they had to use a funeral director but even which one they should use!!

  10. Tuesday 14th August 2012 at 10:05 pm

    Nice to see some of our elected folk using their common sense and serving their constituents.

    I hope they see some sense tonight Chris and you get your wish for your dad.

  11. Liam

    Tuesday 14th August 2012 at 7:03 pm

    If common sense and diplomacy fails for Chris, then I would very much hope a local funeral director will do the honourable thing and offer to “over see” events as required with their presence aqnd thus comply with this draconian and ill considered policy, but actually do nothing more than allow Chris to do his own thing and without charge of course.

  12. Jeanne Rathbone

    Tuesday 14th August 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I am always delighted when someone takes a dignified and simple stance against such improper use of bureaucratic power.

    Await lots of gooey egged faces from officers and councillors and an apology to Christopher Harris whose Dad would, no doubt, have approved of his standing up and challenging the bully boys of Woodstock Town Council.

  13. Tuesday 14th August 2012 at 3:47 pm

    The very best of luck to him.

    Please let us know how it goes!

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