The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Write a guest blog post and feel the lift

Wednesday, 15 October 2014



It takes all sorts to make a GFG mailbag — it’s not all lawyer’s letters from the FBCA, you know. Here’s one:

Hello Charles and Good Funeral Guide team,

I’m an avid reader of The Good Funeral Guide blog and and would be honoured to contribute by submitting an article.

I would love to read a post on ‘How to Incorporate a Limousine in a Funeral on a Budget’, and I think your other readers would too. It would definitely be a valuable inclusion because it will give your readers some tips on saving money on using a limo in a funeral.

I know you are probably too busy to get that content out immediately so how about you have my friend Mircea Stanescu write it for you? Mircea is the owner of Echo Limousine, which is a Chicago based limousine rental and service company. I assure you that the content will be of excellent quality.

Look forward to hearing from you,


Our reply:

Dear Shivani

As an avid reader of the GFG blog you may have sometimes suspected that it is based in the UK. I can confirm that it is. This being so, I fear Mircea’s words will fall on deaf ears. I greatly regret this.  

With all best wishes 


We get an awful lot of these emails from guest blogggers, most of them equally bonkers. Why? Because blogging wins tons of Brownie points with meritocratic search engine web crawlerthingies. It catapults you up the rankings and increases your visibility a millionfold – perhaps more. As Shivani knows very well, a mighty vehicle like the GFG has serious rocket power. Here at the Batesville-GFG Shard we have never bothered with SEO, not only because we think it unsporting but also because we don’t need to. We blog a lot and therefore sit at the right hand of the Lord Google Almighty Himself. 

From time to time we invite our readers to submit an article. Lots of you have promised to write something but have failed to come up with the goods, leaving the blog looking like the ravings of pub bore – me.  

How good it would be to widen the debate, embrace all sorts of points of view and have a blog that is representative of everyone who works in Funeralworld.  

Let off some steam. Send it in. Nom de plume allowed. It’ll be read all over the world and it’ll put your website on page one of Google. 

Come one, come all. Just do it. 



How old school got to be old hat

Monday, 13 October 2014

supermarket checkout


I don’t know what undertakers think about while they’re queueing for the supermarket checkout, but if they have anything in common with 84% of the rest of the population they may be reflecting on how their shopping habits have changed since the recession.

Just how many of them go on to make a connection with the changing habits of funeral shoppers is unclear.

The big four supermarkets are getting on with the job of remodelling themselves in order to adapt to altered trading conditions. We’ve heard them yelp, we’ve watched their share price tumble, but they’ve not cried Unfair! They’re buckling down to hard task of winning back custom.

The budget stores Aldi and Lidl have done well out of the downturn. Today’s grocery shoppers are avid deal-seekers.

People now buy from an average of 4 different supermarkets a week. They want value. Brand loyalty has gone out of the window.

They’re using the internet a lot more, too.

They like to top up with artisan products from small suppliers at farmers’ markets. There’s closer identification with the little guy and a rejection of Big Corp. Tesco is shunned not just because it’s too expensive but also because it’s perceived to be antisocial. Today’s shoppers want values, as well as value.

For the very poor, there are food banks to tide them over.

Trading conditions in Funeralworld are far, far worse. The cost of funerals has risen faster than that of groceries. For the very poor, the Funeral Payment is a dwindling and inadequate contribution to the price of a funeral. There is presently no volunteer-led community initiative on a par with food banks to help them.

A nation of born-again deal-seekers has stimulated the rapid growth of new startups offering budget funerals. These Aldi undertakers have been able to build volume to compensate for smaller margins by undercutting the old-school undertakers by some distance. Their competitiveness has been enhanced by the strong vocational values of many of them, some of whom work for next to nothing.

On top of that there’s been the inexorable rise of direct cremation, the grocery equivalent of the food pill. A great many of those who opt for this cheapest-of-them-all alternative are those who could easily afford a high-end funeral. Whoops, there goes a tranche of big payers.

Funeral shoppers no longer want to buy a whole funeral in one shop. They want to assemble it from several suppliers and they use the internet to find them. If they can afford a coffin from an artisan maker, that’s the one they’ll buy.

There’s been no rejection of Big Corp yet because consumer awareness has not identified Dignity, Funeral Partners and Laurel Funerals for what they are, nor have they sussed Co-operative Funeralcare for what it manifestly isn’t. Such is the growth rate of consumer vigilance, it won’t be long.

It’s not all about price. It’s also about service culture — too big a topic to be more than alluded to here, but an important factor.

Above all, though, there’s a widespread and growing rejection of the ceremonial, processional funeral in favour of simpler and therefore cheaper funerals. Bereaved people increasingly want to create ‘meaningful experiences’ rather than put on a good show.

That a nation famed for the quality of its ceremonial events should be falling out of love with ceremonial funerals is curious, something we talk about here from time to time. Whether this is an evolutionary phenomenon or down to a failure to adapt to modern needs is open to debate. The upshot is that there are lots of ‘traditional’ undertakers out there with high overheads and a dwindling customer base.

The pressure on traditional funeral homes is very great just now, varying in intensity from area to area. The best are buckling down to adapting to altered trading conditions. Some now offer a budget range, just like Waitrose. Others are lashing out with impotent fury at the unfairness of it all. The GFG has been a target of some of these recently. It won’t do. The GFG doesn’t have the clout to start trends. All it can do is hold up a pitiless mirror to what’s going on.

The undertakers  who survive will be the ones with the intelligence and humanity to meet the needs, values and budgets of their clients. The rest will go to the wall, and, sorry, you’ll only have yourselves to blame. Even in the good times we had hundreds more funeral directors than we needed.


Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Soul
by John Whitworth

The soul is like a little mouse.
He hides inside the body’s house
With anxious eyes and twitchy nose
As in and out he comes and goes,
A friendly, inoffensive ghost
Who lives on tea and buttered toast.
He is so delicate and small
Perhaps he is not there at all;
Long-headed chaps who ought to know
Assure us it cannot be so.
But sometimes, as I lie in bed,
I think I hear inside my head
His soft ethereal song whose words
Are in some language of the birds,
An air-borne poetry and prose
Whose liquid grammar no one knows.
So we go on, my soul and I,
Until, the day I have to die,
He packs his bags, puts on his hat
And leaves for ever. Just like that.

Child Funeral Charity now taking referrals

Friday, 10 October 2014


Kevin Tomes, Trustee; Anne Barber, Trustee; Bel Mooney; Mary Tomes, Trustee; Roger Gale, CEO

The Child Funeral Charity is now considering referrals from professionals within the bereavement industry who will be able to put forward details of any family who they believe needs help to cover the costs of a baby or child’s funeral. Once approved by the trustees, CFC will donate up to £700 per family, with the money being paid directly to the relevant suppliers.

Roger Gale, ceo of CFC, says: “The Child Funeral Charity was created because we saw how challenging parents often found it to successfully apply for the Government’s social fund to allow low income families assistance to pay for funeral costs. We do not think it is right that, when faced with the loss of a child, a family suddenly has to worry about how to pay for the funeral.  We hope we will be able to move forward quickly and help each parent during their personal journey of grief.”

You can find the referral form here

CFC needs to fundraise in order to support parents who have lost a baby or a child. Please support CFC in any way you can. Click here

Childrens  Funeral Charity logo



A fitting tribute to Sir Donald Sinden

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Posted by Andy Clarke and Holly Bridgestock-Perris

On 11 September the world lost one its finest actors of screen and stage. Sir Donald Sinden died at home at the age of 90 following a prolonged battle with cancer.

The national press has given praise for his extensive work and his contribution to British acting. They have fully covered his career and extolled his acting successes over the past 7 decades.

Sir Donald will be remembered for his various stage appearances from comedy (There’s a Girl in my Soup, 1966-1973) to various Shakespearean characters in numerous film productions and, more recently, playing alongside Martin Shaw in BBC’s Judge John Deed.

Sir Donald’s funeral service was held at a small village church miles from the busy west end where he was a regular visitor. Friends and family gathered at St John the Baptist in Wittersham, near Tenterden in Kent to say farewell to the great man.

The Sindens are neighbours of ours and Sir Donald was a very popular and highly respected member of our community. Locally he will be remembered for his happy manner and friendly smiles in the High Street of Tenterden and surrounding villages. Quite often I would hear his distinctive voice booming across the aisles of our local Waitrose as he chatted with staff and other customers alike.

Sir Donald was also a supporter of local arts – he was patron of the Barn Theatre Company based at the Ellen Terry Barn Theatre at Smallhythe Place and supporter of Homewood School drama department who named their theatre after him.

He also supported the local community in many other ways. I remember well, one year, running into Donald at Stone village fair where he was master of ceremonies and resident judge and prize awarder – in his best Shakespearean theatrical voice presiding over best Victoria sponge and largest marrow. A delight to the ears!

As such, we were delighted to be asked by his son, actor and director Marc Sinden, if we could provide a hand-painted Curve Coffin for Sir Donald in the distinctive “Salmon and Cucumber” colours of the Garrick Club in London which Sir Donald frequented.

We are delighted that the story was covered by local press.




My first funeral

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

image001 (2)


Posted by John Porter

I think a personal reflective piece is in order following my delivery yesterday of my first fee-paying funeral ceremony as a recently qualified Funeral Celebrant. I will not forget it for several reasons.

The first reason is that I was sunning myself beside a swimming pool on a sun-drenched Greek island when I got the call from the funeral director on my mobile. I rarely answer it on holiday but for some reason decided to. I said “yes” without hesitation, took down the details and called the client straight away. The line sounded like a load of crickets having a tele-conference but we somehow managed to set up a meeting for the following Monday. The funeral was on Thursday. My mind started to tick. I sent a couple of emails and quickly established that the family did not want an order of service – phew! One obstacle out of the way with a tight timescale.

The interview went very well, I sent a draft script the next day and resolved a miscommunication between others about version of music – it pays to be very picky on this point! The son and grandson were both speaking during the ceremony about their matriarch’s character.  One would read, the other would do it off the cuff with some notes on his iPhone. I was not nervous about this as there were no funeral ceremonies to follow. 20-25 people would be there including 8 grandchildren which I was very pleased about.

Thursday 2nd October dawned a beautiful day. Chilly start but soon became unseasonably hot. The ceremony was at 2pm. I was working at the hospital until noon (p/t administrator in Transforming End of Life Care Team) and was fully prepared. I fancied lunch on the pier and then a short cycle ride to the crematorium – allowing 30 mins before the start to check everything. I was calm.

The second reason I will remember my first funeral is that 2nd October 2014 was my partner and I’s 21st anniversary – since we met. I was feeling very happy.

The third reason I will remember my first funeral is my accident! I left work as planned at noon and set off on my fold-up Brompton bicycle, suited, booted and tanned, to the bus stop for a ride to the pier. The sea beckoned. Within 30 seconds from leaving my office I cycled past a van that was blocking my way onto a grass verge and then suddenly hit a hardly visible hollow and summersaulted over the handlebars collapsing in an undignified heap! No-one came to my rescue as I guess they did not witness my acrobatics. Those first few seconds are very hard to recall. My first thought was “The funeral!”, the second “My clothes!” I scanned myself, nothing broken, no obvious holes in the suit – just a bit dusty. Phew! I did not notice the blood dribbling over my twisted Brompton. It was coming from the tip of my finger. “Right, back to base I think”.

Twenty minutes later I stepped out into the sun’s heat, suit brushed, blood washed off, tie straightened, finger smartly decorated with a plaster, bikeless but reasonably relaxed. A bus and taxi (I don’t drive) got me to the crematorium 30 mins before the ceremony as planned. I determined not to mention any of this to anyone until after the ceremony. I could feel some pain in my elbow but dispatched some adrenalin to suppress its pleas for attention.

My ceremony script was in a folio that only just fitted into the lectern (worth checking this in advance methinks). Two buttons: one for music, I noticed later it activates an audible door bell to alert the chapel attendant to play a piece from a CD (quaint!); the other to close the curtains, well-positioned so that I needed to face the coffin to easily press it.

As I climbed into the pulpit to start the ceremony I saw an envelope from the funeral director with “fee for John Porter…” written on it. It was cash. It would be impossible to pick up during the ceremony without being noticed. I let it be and hoped it would become invisible to the family contributors. Mercifully they were too focussed on what they needed to say and appeared not to see it. Another phew!

I closed the ceremony, cued the music (that’s when I heard a distant doorbell chime), left the pulpit, bowed to the closed curtains and stepped into the heat once more. I did not feel relieved. I felt a profound sense of respect for the family that had lost their matriarch, gratitude for the trust they placed in me and overwhelmed by the privilege to help them say farewell.

The family said wonderful things to me. The funeral director said he would email the other FDs in the area as I had done such a good job. I felt very thankful.

The final reason why I remember my first funeral is because 30 minutes later I was sitting in the A&E department of the hospital I work in waiting for an X-ray on my extremely painful elbow. People were being rushed in with life threatening injuries and conditions. The circle of life. I was eating a very late lunch – not the one I anticipated earlier gazing out to sea from my favourite café on the pier.

That was my first funeral.

Who’s sorry now?

Monday, 6 October 2014



The baby ashes scandal which broke at Mortonhall crematorium quickly spread to other crematoria in Scotland. Will it develop into a UK-wide scandal? Have other crematoria been failing to recover ashes from infants despite the availability of forty-year-old science showing that a foetus as young as 17 weeks’ gestation will, if cremated gently, yield ash?

At Emstrey crematorium in Shrewsbury, where baby ashes were being successfully recovered 100% of the time as long ago as the 1960s, the technique for cremating babies seems at some stage to have been lost, because since 2004 only 1 set of ashes per 30 were recovered.

Shropshire Council has launched an enquiry and clients of Emstrey crematorium have formed a campaigning group, Action for Ashes. One of its members, Glen Perkins, whose 4-month-old daughter Olivia was cremated at Emstrey, said: “We truly believe there are other cases in England and Wales. We’re not going to go away until things have changed. We’re going to keep fighting for what is right.”

In Glasgow they are making sure that what went on can never happen again. They are applying the definition of ashes proposed by both Dame Elish Angiolini and Lord Bonomy: “all that is left in the cremator at the end of the cremation process and following the removal of any metal”.

Councillor Frank McAveety, convener of Glasgow council’s Sustainability and the Environment Committee, said: “The council, with immediate effect, began to use Dame Elish Angiolini’s definition from her report into Mortonhall and moved away from the more general definition of the Federation of Burial and ­Cremation Authorities. This clarification makes it very likely that we will return any ash to bereaved families where they request it.”

In her report into Mortonhall, Dame Elish wrote:

There was little by way of formal training at Mortonhall other than in general cremation practice. When it came to the cremation of foetuses and babies, staff learned from their more experienced peers or supervisor. Likewise, notions of policy and practice were derived by word of mouth with very little other than operators’ manuals committed to writing.

Here was a sorry state of affairs.

When is somebody going to stand up and say sorry?

QSA is hiring

Monday, 6 October 2014



Quaker Social Action is looking for two exceptional people to join our team.

Down to Earth development worker

Full time, £26,522pa, Bethnal Green, London.

Down to Earth is a unique project which works with those on a low income in east London who are face planning and paying for a funeral. We step in where end of life services step back and bereavement services have not yet engaged to help people with the practicalities and processes of planning an affordable and meaningful funeral.

As a development worker you will engage with people to help them understand their options and  work through what is sometimes a maze of family expectation, form-filling and financial decisions at a time when their ability to cope can be clouded by grief.

The need is very real. The price of a funeral has risen 80% since 2004 and the cost takes many by surprise, especially as the issue crosses two taboos, money and death. Those whose finances are already finely balanced (maybe through having spent time caring for an unwell relative, or living on a fixed income such as a pension) can be tipped financial difficulty and unmanageable debt by the cost of a funeral.

Joining a small team you will be able to make a real difference to people from day one, as you work with compassion and a level head alongside people at a vulnerable time in their lives. You will also have the scope to stretch yourself and grow with the project within a supportive organisation.

To apply download our job pack,and application form and return to us at no later than 10am on Monday 6th October.

Always alive

Monday, 6 October 2014



“I met the poet James Turner in my twenties: no one reads him now, yet to me he is always alive … You too must have people like that in your lives, people who are not alive in the physical sense, but remain alive in some spiritual way, which you retain in your head, in your whole personality.”

How Mortonhall happened

Monday, 6 October 2014



By Ken West

We are now aware that Mortonhall Crematorium cremated hundreds of babies and infants, and denied that any cremated remains existed. The recent report by Dame Elish Angiolini condemned this practice and exposed it as a scandal. More recently, the Infant Cremation Commission chaired by Lord Bonomy has reported. Anybody reading these reports can rightly ask why some crematoria produce remains and others not? How is it that good practice did not disseminate across the UK?

Lord Bonomy, unable to understand the history of this scenario, or not concerned with the past, puts in a touch of reproof when he comments:

13.1 The encouragement of communication among, and co-ordination of the work of, the various bodies with a role in infant cremation is one of the themes of this Report. Achieving clarity and consistency in communicating with families is another. It is a striking feature of cremation that so much activity is duplicated because there are two major and very active bodies which represent Cremation Authorities and staff, and that the information and Guidance they publish is not entirely consistent. Obviously the members of both bodies have the right to form and belong to whatever association they choose. However there is clearly scope for greater co-operation between the ICCM and the FBCA. The Commission have recommended that they co-operate in certain specific areas. Perhaps that may lead to more co-operation in others.

I find it annoying that the Institute of Cemetery & Crematoria Management (ICCM) is slighted in this way. The ICCM was, and remains ‘very active’. To understand that you need to go back with me and it is a long, complex journey.

Human remains or clinical waste?

In the 1960’s, Victorian principles still applied in UK cemeteries and stillborns were interred in a mass grave, one after the other. It took a few years to fill the grave which was then backfilled. The term foetal remains was unknown in cemeteries or crematoria and they were treated as clinical waste whereby the hospital disposed of them. It was time honoured practice and nobody questioned it. On rare occasions, some people, mostly the wealthy and empowered, did not leave the disposal to the hospital but took control of the stillborn and interred the baby in a family grave, or arranged cremation, with a service. Those babies who lived, even for a few minutes, were invariably given a full funeral. These were most often buried, but a rare few were cremated. I was a cremator operator at Emstrey Crematorium, Shrewsbury at that time and it never occurred to me, or the staff who trained me, that ashes would not be returned to the parent(s). To ensure that this happened, the parents or funeral director would be told to place the body in a solid wood container. The cremation was completed overnight, the hot cremator switched off, the coffin placed in a copper tray, later a steel one. This guaranteed a quantity of ash and the fact that this was mostly, if not all, wood ash rather than human remains was not considered an issue. The parents had some remains to focus their grief on, which was all that mattered.

 A grave for every stillbirth

Years later, as I took up my first managerial post in Wolverhampton, a mother was waiting to meet me. She was upset that my predecessor would not agree to exhume her stillborn baby from the mass grave. I had to reject her request, as finding one baby amongst the two hundred in the grave was impossible. I vowed to change this and in 1976 I introduced an individual small grave for each stillbirth on a plot called ‘The Babies Memorial Garden’. A memorial could be placed on the grave as well as teddies or toys. This idea was opposed by the maternity hospital administrators and, incidentally, by many of my own departmental staff, as it was seen as unnecessary. This may have been the first individual burial of stillbirths in the UK, something I cannot prove.

When I moved on to Carlisle in 1984, I immediately introduced a Baby Memorial Garden but, for the first time, prepared forms to allow for the burial of foetal remains. Sure enough, within a year or so, a woman on fertility treatment asked the maternity hospital to inter her foetus on the plot. She worked at the maternity hospital and was aware that otherwise the foetus would be put in the hospital incinerator with all other clinical waste, and the ashes sent to landfill. I had to ignore the law to permit that burial because then, as now, clinical waste cannot be lawfully interred in a cemetery or cremated. I countered the gainsayers then by arguing that no court in the land would consider the remains of a baby as not human remains.

 The psychological aftermath

At that time, in cemeteries throughout the UK, a number of older women, who had experienced a stillbirth in the preceding three decades, were making enquiries about their baby. Typically, they were experiencing psychological problems and their counsellor or psychiatrist often suggested that the loss of the baby, and absence of grieving, was an issue. Many cemetery professionals then realised that what had happened in the previous decades was wrong in that it denied the ability to grieve. Professionals working in cremation only services would not have experienced this.

It is worth considering at this point that if a decent burial facility was available, such as in Carlisle, few people resorted to cremation. The emerging charities SANDS and Compassionate Friends were also having an impact at this time, and they ensured that the cemetery manager was not as isolated as in the past when proposing improvements. Attitudes changed, not least when Esther Rantzen led a campaign to improve the way stillbirth and foetal remains were managed in 1983.

 Non-viable foetuses continued to go to landfill

As we moved into the 1990’s the individual burial of stillbirths was commonplace and the arrangements for foetal remains then took centre stage. The definition of stillbirth had been reduced from 28 week gestation to 24 weeks. Nonetheless, the fact that a 23 week baby was fully formed and yet was treated as clinical waste remained a scandal. Impetus came in the form of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA), as it demanded that hospitals upgrade their incinerators to modern standards. That was expensive and many preferred to stop incineration and use contractors to transport clinical waste to regional industrial incineration units. That created many logistical problems, not least the humane loading and storing of the bodies on a truck designed to carry hospital waste. The drivers of these vehicles, I was informally told, were deeply upset at having to identify and handle the foetal remains separately. The ashes resulting from the process continued to go to landfill. Many hospitals, perhaps under pressure from SANDS and Compassionate Friends, sought local cremation and opened dialogue. Many areas did not have burial space so cremation was essential.

The ICCM was central to finding solutions at that time. The ICCM is a member lead organisation, principally on training and management. It is not a lead authority on cremation, or burial, for that matter. The Bereavement Services manager at Warrington was appointed to head an ICCM study and she sent out a survey form to all authorities asking what they did locally with regard to foetal remains, a return I completed for Carlisle on 11 August 1995. I had to take all decisions because my chairman refused to take a report to committee, as many of the foetal remains were ‘abortions’, which offended our Catholic councillors. I developed a shared burial scheme but where a parent sought individual cremation then that was arranged.

 ICCM points the way forward

The ICCM focus, a pressure group as it were, was simple and direct; to stop foetal remains going via the clinical waste route as quickly as possible. The hospital concerns were threefold, firstly that of cost, because money spent on a dead baby was not then available for the living. Secondly, that many of the foetuses, say at twelve to fourteen weeks, were not much bigger than a pound coin and giving them an individual funeral, as such, was excessive. Thirdly, that many of the foetuses, not least the abortions, had to remain confidential and identified only by a case number. The ICCM, pragmatic as ever, felt that if individual cremation was pursued, the average crematoria might receive between thirty and forty individual coffins in a single delivery from the hospital each month. Putting these individually into a cremator by hand, and keeping each separate, was possible, but it was prohibitively expensive.

The FBCA was aware of what was happening. I first wrote to them on behalf of the City of Carlisle on the 19 October 1991 to suggest that they must agree the cremation of foetal remains in order to stop the clinical waste disposal. I know of others who wrote similar letters. It needs to be understood that the FBCA represent UK cremation authorities, and they are recognised as the lead organisation by government.  Their Code of Cremation Practice demanded that each cremation be individual. The thought of a communal (shared) cremation, that of putting many small foetuses into a single coffin, appalled them. After much consultation, the FBCA suggested that they might accept that all these coffins could be put into one cremator together and cremated, yet they opposed a shared container. The FBCA wanted to maintain the status quo and blocked every proposal we put forward. Two of the meetings I attended with their officers were the most frustrating meetings I ever experienced. Much of the work I and other ICCM officers and members did was in our own time, often evenings and weekends. This national initiative was outside our routine day to day work.

 Shared cremation

The ICCM decision on the way forward was formally agreed on the 3 May 1996 by four officers, myself included, to reflect hospital consultations, including their chaplaincy teams, as well as local SANDS and other similar groups. This was to accept shared cremation, that each foetus be separately wrapped and identified, and placed together in a single container, which would then be cremated. The larger mass involved, including the container, would then ensure that ashes remained and if these were placed in a specific part of the Garden of Remembrance, then the parent(s) could visit that spot and grieve. That was important as all the evidence showed that although the majority of women involved did not want to know what happened to the foetus at the time it was expelled, or aborted, that many made contact months or years later to ask what had happened. A further advantage was that because all the foetuses were together the hospital staff did not have to make distinctions over gestation. Those parents with a foetus of low gestation would have the benefit of, morally at least, some ashes.

 Postcode lottery

This shared cremation process was defined and the container was to be delivered to the crematorium chapel at an agreed time, any parent(s) could attend if they wished, and the hospital chaplain would take a short service. The clinical waste process would be stopped in a single stroke, and the NHS expenditure constrained.  We were aware, as early as November 1995 that a number of crematoria had already agreed with their local hospital and introduced the ICCM shared cremation process. The FBCA knew this because in a discussion with their Secretary at that time he informed me that thirteen crematoria were involved. As they were evidently not working within FBCA policy I asked him what action they would take. The answer was none, that they would ignore it. The postcode lottery as regards to what happens locally to foetal remains began at that time.

The ICCM shared cremation proposal was put to a special meeting called in London on the 29th May 1996 between the Institute, the FBCA, nursing representatives and those of groups like SANDS. At this London meeting, the manager of one of the thirteen crematoria (Nottingham) was invited to address the meeting on the successful shared cremation process he had introduced. Subsequently, the shock was that the SANDS representative joined the three FBCA representatives to reject shared cremation, and demand individual cremation. That shattered the ICCM raison d’etre. Our protestations that this would ensure that the clinical waste process would continue were ignored. Government took no interest in the issue. Negotiations continued, on and off, and SANDS ultimately agreed to shared cremation, but generally such schemes only started where the FBCA did not have any influence. The FBCA response continually fell back on the same precepts, that the problems created for NHS staff regarding gestation, or the costs incurred by the NHS, were not their concern.

 Parting of the ways

This schism gradually worsened as ICCM proposals, not least when the Charter for the Bereaved was launched in 1996, caused increasing aggravation. The final breach was when some ICCM members, myself included, withdrew their authority from membership of the FBCA. This was because in places like my authority at Carlisle, where we routinely used coffin covers, held over cremations for up to 72 hours or completed individual foetal cremations, it was morally wrong to return the annual FBCA return stating that we had complied with their Code of Practice.

These ICCM initiatives were intended to reduce cremation emissions, energy usage and funeral costs. The FBCA resisted all change and neither did they introduce any proposals to improve the environmental performance of cremation or meet the changing needs of the bereaved. The psychology the FBCA adopted is worth considering, and is exemplified by their response to coffin covers. In the ICCM we used the term ‘reusable coffin’ and only after some years, and the introduction of such a coffin to the market by a funeral director, did the FBCA agree to their introduction. As this decision approached they asked me, as the ICCM Charter Organiser, to present the issue to one of their meetings in London. In fact, having travelled from Carlisle at some cost, they did not ask me to present but had already agreed anyway. They had changed the name to coffin covers, which has confused everybody to this day, as their way of taking ownership of the idea.

Evidence of the final break was when the historical joint conference between the ICCM and FBCA was ended. Each organisation went their separate ways and joint cooperation was effectively ended. Many times during this period ICCM officers discussed returning to the issue of foetal remains, but it did not happen. I still feel some personal guilt that I was one of those who failed to respond. The ICCM was forced to compromise on the recovery of ashes, but many of its members did not and continued to guarantee their recovery.

The road to Mortonhall

This scenario now leads us to the conditions that created the Mortonhall scandal. My direct involvement with the ICCM ended when I resigned my role as Charter Organiser upon my appointment to a new post in Cardiff in 2001. Consequently, what I now write is based on memory and not supported by my diary entries.

The secretary of the FBCA, a man who had stalled all change for some years, left under a financial cloud.

What are ashes?

The FBCA, keen to distance themselves from the ICCM, needed to justify their existence. The need for individual cremation of foetal remains, and infants, had to be formalised, an approach the ICCM members knew to be extremely difficult. I have no idea what happened in camera but I can postulate on their approach. The question of gestation will have arisen so there is a need to identify a cut off point; what gestation must the foetus be for cremated remains to exist? Perhaps they never answered that, but the solution promoted by the ICCM in the earlier consultations had to be discredited. That was to use a wood container to create ash, and not to differentiate between wood ash and human remains; done that way every baby, no matter what gestation, had recoverable ashes. Consequently, FBCA officers created this absurd argument over the definition of cremated remains. Their decision was that the true ashes could only be human remains, and the remains we had recovered for decades were the ‘total recovered remains’. I recall my disbelief at this summary and the sheer absurdity in suggesting that we could somehow separate the human and wood components of the ash.

They did, then they stopped

As the ash could not be separated, and most of the ash was from wood or items left in the coffin, it is easy to see how they decided that, in truth, no ashes actually existed. This decision also overcame the H & S issues that arose over using and handling hot infant cremation trays. That reason was blamed for stopping the use of trays at Mortonhall. But consider that Scotland is also more unionised than England and stopping the tray use neatly absolved the manager at Mortonhall from arguing the case with a shop steward. The fact is, the recovery of baby and infant remains is more complex, more laborious and more time consuming than not recovering them. The reports make clear that both Aberdeen and Mortonhall were previously recovering infant ashes but stopped that practice in the 1990’s.

 Natural burial, the alternative to cremation

Before I finish, I want to point out the difference between the ICCM and FBCA, which is subtle, but significant. The word to consider for either is their relative disinterestedness. The ICCM wear three hats, for cremation, conventional burial and natural burial. The organisation has no concern as to whether one or the other of these options outplays or dominates another. The market is allowed to rule and support given to whoever works in any of the three zones. In this they act as a disinterested party. Up to the 1990’s, with conventional burial crippled by nationwide memorial safety and grave maintenance costs, they were able to present a strong case for cremation, and virtually all UK councils supported their promotional stance. However, in recent decades, the case for cremation has been undermined through the introduction of natural burial. With its reduced grounds maintenance, no embalming and the use of an eco coffin, it is sustainable and actually benefits nature, giving the funeral a spiritual focus. Cremation, for the first time since it started in the 1880’s, has virtually no promotional opportunity. Even the USA has decided that incineration per se is harmful to the environment. It fell to the ICCM (and the ICCM Trust), through their Charter for the Bereaved, to support eco coffins, coffin covers, and to delay cremation (holding the body for up to 72 hours) in order to improve the environmental performance of cremators. The Charter was also the first and only document to highlight these issues in a transparent manner. Far from being welcomed, these proposals were seen as anti cremation by the FBCA and opposed.

How bad will it be in England and Wales?

If this analysis is correct then it suggests that this scandal will be principally limited to Scotland and be less evident in the more robust ICCM environment in England. It is only in England, and Wales that authorities cancelled their membership of the FBCA in response to what happened. As matters stand, in June 2014, only Shrewsbury (Emstrey) Crematorium appears to have a similar scenario, with no ashes recovered in 29 of 30 cases, but that relates to a long standing manager absence.

To conclude, I trust that this history illustrates why the Mortonhall situation arose.

ED’S FOOTNOTE: A non-viable foetus is any baby born before 24 weeks; a stillborn is any baby born after 24 weeks. To their parents, of course, they are all babies. Non-viable foetuses continue to be treated as clinical waste, as you can read here

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