Charles Cowling

Here’s a curious case of what looks to me like damnable stupidity whose aftermath is irreparable emotional damage. I can think of no reason for the undertaker in the following case to have behaved as he did – to have forged signatures on an application for cremation. I’d be interested to know what other funeral directors can read between the lines here.

The case is reported on the this is Devon website. Here’s what happened:

Mrs Lau, aged 30, fought back tears as she told the court how she learned last June that her unborn 26-week baby had died. Two days later she endured the heartbreak of giving birth to the stillborn boy, whom the couple named Sonny.

On July 2, while a post-mortem examination was carried out in Oxford, they attended the Plymouth Crownhill branch of Co-operative funeral services and met with Durden who, they told the court, answered their questions about what was available.

However, unable to decide at that stage, they left with lists of costs and visited a memorial company to find out about gravestones, plaques and memorials.

By July 9 they were told by the funeral home that Sonny’s remains were back from Oxford and they could proceed with funeral arrangements.

Over that weekend they agreed to cremation and contacted Durden on July 13, adding they wanted an envelope, containing Sonny’s birth certificate, an origami paper key and an origami paper star, to be placed in the casket.

However, Durden – who had worked at the firm for 10 years, but was manager for only 18 months – claimed he never received the call and no-one passed him any such message. He also denied saying the couple could dress their son in clothes of their choice.

On July 22, Mr Lau phoned Durden who told them their boy had been cremated the previous day at Bodmin crematorium. When the couple went to Bodmin the following day, staff showed them the forms authorising the cremation. When the couple saw the forged signatures, police were called. Durden denied any wrongdoing, claiming Mrs Lau was so distressed she forgot signing the two forms on the July 2 meeting. Durden – who was later sacked from his job – was fined £400, ordered to pay £15 victim surcharge and £350 court costs.

The link to this story was supplied to me by Mrs Lau who, in her email, adds: “This should be made aware nationwide and should never ever be allowed to happen again.


7 thoughts on “Damned lies

  1. The Good Funeral Guide – Shame – The Good Funeral Guide

    […] all this was happening, Mrs Lao contacted us. We publicised the case here and […]

  2. The Good Funeral Guide – Making doubly sure

    […] Back in April I reported the story of the undertaker who forged a client’s signature on a cremation form  and then had the body cremated without their knowledge. The body was that of a 26 week-old boy, Sonny. His parents had wanted to dress him and put special items in his coffin. Read it here. […]

  3. The Good Funeral Guide – Tell them fully and tell them clearly

    […] also a great consumer champion. In the case of the Laus and their illegally cremated child which I reported a few days ago, it was Teresa, I have just discovered, who advised the family of their legal rights after they had […]

  4. Charles Cowling
    andrew plume

    yet more bad and sad news regarding the activities of ‘the people’s undertaker’ – surely with 100,000 funerals pa and the excessive numbers of admin staff (doing excatly what I say), this event and others reported on this fine blog, should never occur…………..?

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling

    Absolutely terrible with what’s happened with the family!

    reading the original article online and taking into consideration what norfolk boi says, It seems as though the couple didn’t sign any forms, as quote from the article ‘insisting no documents had ever been put before them during their meetings with Durden’. So maybe the couple didn’t sign any forms at all!!??

    Also quote from the original article ‘A funeral director forged a grieving mother’s signature and then failed to tell the still-born boy’s parents he had been cremated until the next day’ … Well that sounds very malicious to me, not just foolishness or stupidity!

    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    Rupert Callender

    Sounds about right to me. Stupid and out of his depth rather than malicious.

    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    Norfolk Boi

    This particular branch is a former Plymouth & South West Co-op branch. The Plymouth & South West Co-op merged with the Co-operative Group in September 2009, bringing 30 funeral homes along with it. That means this incident happened 10 months after the merger.

    That’s the background, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Court found that the applicant’s signature was forged.

    If I had to wildly speculate what happened, I would guess that the FD messed up, and rather than getting the applicant to sign a CR3, he got the applicant to sign the more common CR1.

    I would then guess that when he realised his mistake, (perhaps after realsing there was a CR9 instead of CR4 and CR5) he then forged the CR3, thinking that as the applicant had signed the CR1, they wanted the cremation to go ahead, so no one would realise.

    For some reason, (perhaps because they were asked to sign the CR1 blank and they didn’t go through it), the client then forgot about signing the CR1, and made the complaint.

    I would guess that in this situation, rather than lose face and ask the family to sign the CR3, the FD decided to wing it, and he got exposed.

    I don’t believe for one minute that the FD signed the CR3 and booked the funeral knowing that the family weren’t ready.

    As I said previously, in this situation I am guessing the FD was caught out by his own foolishness.

    Charles Cowling

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