I first heard from Lisa Mullan when she wrote to me on 23 Feb 2013:
My father was told he had terminal lung cancer in May 2012 and had around 6 months to live. He subsequently purchased a Funeral Care Plan from the Cooperative Funeral Care, Plympton, Devon and requested he be buried at the Crossways Woodland Burial site. A Mr Richard Parson, Hub manager of the branch, sent my father’s cheque off to Mr Chatfield [the owner of Crossways] to purchase a plot in May.
When my father sadly passed away in November, my mother and sister went to the funeral home to be told my father did not have a plot. The confusion had arisen as Mr Parson was away on holiday and could not confirm the purchase and also Mr Chatfield was also away on holiday and could not be instantly contacted. This was Tuesday 6th November. Whilst this was unfortunate timing, contact was made with Mr Chatfield, and by Thursday 8th November the Coop had received an email from him confirming the time and date of the burial as 20th November, at 12:45pm. This would have been seen by the Coop staff on the Friday morning at open of business.
On that Friday my mother popped in to the branch to ask if they had heard anything from Crossways. The Coop version of events differs slightly with each telling and currently stands that my mother was told Crossways had not confirmed and to take the weekend to visit both it and another burial ground at Yealmpton and decide where she would like to bury my father.
On the Monday my mother rang the Coop again for news on whether they had heard anything from Crossways and was told that they had not but the funeral could be postponed. We had already had the date confirmed as the 20th and so postponement was not an option as family had made their travel arrangements. My mother panicked and, gently guided by the Coop staff, she opted to book a plot in Yealmpton where the subsequent funeral was held and where my father now lies.
In dismay at the lack of communication from Crossways, my sister took the time to find out their governing body and wrote a complaint to the Natural Death Centre. We were then shocked to discover that Crossways had indeed confirmed all arrangements and we had not been informed.
To further complicate matters, Mr Chatfield had been away on holiday and his return flight was hit by a baggage handlers strike, so he had to pay to fly back earlier than scheduled with another airline.
I am currently in discussions with the Coop. Initially after a face to face meeting with Mr Parson I was reimbursed the mileage money my father had paid for the hearse to take him to Crossways and was also expecting communication from him regarding exactly what had happened and how this miscommunication had come about. My mother received the money, but I heard nothing from him regarding the circumstances in which the lack of information had taken place. I then wrote to him again and asked to be reimbursed for the 20% administration fee Crossways charged on the refunded monies for the plot, an apology for my mother and the £300 for Mr Chatfield’s flight. I have since been in contact with the regional manager, Mr Adrian Smart, and am waiting for him to provide me with details of his manager. Needless to say, all requests have so far been refused.
This whole situation is a cause of stress and upset to myself and my family and also to Mr Chatfield who has lost out financially but also has a complaint against his name and reputation.
I replied with what I hope was helpful advice and a warning that the process of seeing the complaint through was likely to be drawn out.
On 16 May Lisa wrote to individual senior managers at Funeralcare in Manchester and informed them, among other things, that:
I am seeking to recover costs … and as your Regional Manager has failed to attend to the matter in nearly four months, I appeal to you to take this further.
Lisa sent the senior managers a timeline:
24th May 2012: My father paid for a Tailor Made Funeral Care Plan at the Co-op Funeralcare in Plympton, Devon (hereafter known as Plympton). His contact was Hub Manager Mr Richard Parson. His wish was to be buried at the Crossways Burial Ground in Okehampton (hereafter known as Crossways) and Mr Parson sent a cheque for £835 to pay for the plot to Mr Martin Chatfield on his behalf. The “Grave Details” specify Crossways.
25 May 2012: Payment for plot received by Crossways.
6th November 2012, 0140: My father died. 0900: My mother received a call from Plympton inviting her to come in. 10.00: My mother and sister attended this appointment and were assisted with information pertaining to administration of a late relative. They also discussed initial funeral arrangements and were informed my father did not have a plot booked. Mr Parson was away on holiday and could not clarify the situation and unfortunately so was Mr Chatfield. Apparently repeated attempts to contact him by Plympton were unsuccessful. pm: My sister managed to speak to Mr Chatfield who would contact the UK to check plot status. Stiil no contact between Mr Chatfield and Plympton.
7th November 2012, 1245: Email from Plympton to Mr Chatfield requesting he inform them of plot status.
8th November 2012, 1231: Email from Mr Chatfield to Plympton stating the existence of a plot for my father and potential accommodation of a funeral any time after 18th November 2012. 1353: Email from Plympton to Mr Chatfield requesting a burial at 1245 on 20th November 2012. 18.16: Reply from Mr Chatfield to Plympton confirming time and place of burial.
9 November 2012, 0900: My mother pops into Plympton. It is suggested she look at both Crossways and a burial site at Yealmpton, Devon (hereafter known as Yealmpton) over the weekend and inform Plympton of her decision on the Monday. As far as she is aware, funeral arrangements are for 20th November 2012 but contact with Crossways has not yet been established.
10-11 November 2012: The family inform relatives and friends that the funeral would be held on 20th November 2012
12 November 2012, 1100: My mother speaks to Plympton to be told there is still no word from Crossways but the funeral could be postponed until they had. Various: Phone records show several phone calls to myself and my sister from my mother. Unfortunately no one was home to take them. Midday: My mother confirms with Plympton that the burial should be moved to Yealmpton and agrees to pay an extra £950 for the plot and grave digging. 1451: Email from Plympton to Mr Chatfield informing him of my mother’s decision and requesting a full refund of the £835 my father paid for the plot. 0900: Mr Chatfield paid £300 to a second airline and started returning to the UK two days premature of his original departure date due to an unforeseen baggage handlers strike with his original airline. 2100: Mr Chatfield discovered the email from Plympton cancelling the burial.
13 November 2012: Mr Chatfield spoke to Mr Parson to express his displeasure but promised to refund the plot money minus a 20% administration fee.
20 November 2012: My father’s funeral at Plympton and Burial in Yealmpton. The requested donations box was not present before or after the service in Plympton.
25 November 2012, 1552: Email from my sister, Caroline Fielden, to Rosie Inman-Cook at the Natural Death Centre to complain about Mr Chatfield’s conduct in not contacting Plympton to arrange the burial at Crossways that my father had requested and paid for.
27 November 2012, 1245: Email from Rosie Inman-Cook to my sister informing her that Mr Chatfield had indeed confirmed the burial, returning early due to the aforementioned strike to be present.
29 November 2012, 1941: My sister forwarded to email from Rosie Inman-Cook to Plympton and requested sight of emails from 7th and 8th November to confirm this. She never received a reply.
Early December 2012: I was informed of the above and agreed to take it further. I arranged to meet Mr Parson on a trip to Plympton that month. I also rang Mr Chatfield who immediately forwarded the pertinent emails from 7th and 8th November.
12 December 2102, 1230: Meeting with Mr Parson to explain entire incident. He claimed not to be aware of any of it and needed to speak to his staff. We arranged a further meeting for the following day. There were several points regarding anecdotal evidence that Plympton had been rather persuasive in steering my mother to use Yealmpton and not Crossways for the burial.
13 December 2012, 0900: Second meeting with Mr Parson. We discussed various anecdotal evidence. He did not, however, say he had discovered exactly why my mother had not been informed that Mr Chatfield had confirmed the time and date of the burial. This, in my mind was the sole reason for reconvening the meeting. Mr Parson agreed to reimburse the mileage money my father had paid for the hearse to drive to Crossways, offered to help me with full reimbursement from Crossways should they refuse and let me know via email exactly how the confusion had arisen.
End December 2012: A cheque for £112 was sent to my mother to reimburse mileage.
4 January 2013, 2207: Email from me to Mr Parson explaining my disappointment at not hearing from him regarding the confusion.
7 January 2013, 0813: Email from Mr Parson to me stating he thought we had sorted the problem and when he would be contactable by phone.
7-9 January 2103, various: Tried to contact Mr Parson by phone but to no avail.
9 January 2013, 2133: Email from me to Mr Parson requesting Plympton reimburse the 20% Crossways administration fee, issue a full apology to my mother and reimburse Mr Chatfield the £300 he was obliged to pay to return to the UK.
11 January 2013, 1020: Email from Mr Parson re-stating that Plympton were not at fault. Inclusion of the Funeral Arbitration Scheme Leaflet.
12 January 2013, 1943: Email to Mr Parson stating that I will be taking the matter further.
13 January 2013, 0900: Phone call to Co-op Funeral Care Customer services. Matter discussed with the member of staff who sent the mileage cheque to my mother. 1700: Contact from Mr Adrian Smart, Regional Manager overseeing Plympton. He promises to investigate the issue and phone back.
18 January 2013, 1713: Email from Mr Smart. Attached letter details incident as he has understood it and the Arbitration leaflet. An apology was made for contacting my mother so soon after my father’s death but not for withholding information from Crossways.
10 February 2013, 2114: Reply to Mr Smart detailing the reasons I believe my mother was misled by Co-op staff.
11 February 2013, 0944: Reply from Mr Smart stating he cannot respond at this particular time but I will hear from him in due course. I have never heard from him or anybody else from the Co-op again.
Today, 16 June 2013, I received the following from Lisa:
I have reached an impasse with the Co-op. They insist on concentrating on the Tuesday (my father died) and the Friday (where they reckon they told my mother about Crossways, but really all they seem to have done is told her to visit both plots) and not on the following Monday (when she was told they still hadn’t heard from Crossways and the funeral could be postponed). Jack Walsh (the sector manager) has offered to pay 10% of the Crossways admin fee as apparently they have communication from Martin Chatfield stating as much, even though we only received 80% reimbursement (not that I begrudge Martin the 10% as he is out of pocket too).
Jack Walsh is apparently now writing to my mother about his findings and it will be interesting to see what happens there. However, I would now like you to, if you can and want to, publish our story.