Wrong coffin with a twist

Charles 32 Comments

Here’s an extraordinary thing.

A funeral director brings the wrong coffin to the crematorium. The crematorium staff spot that it’s the wrong coffin on arrival, and inform the funeral director. 

So far, so banal.

What happens next? The service goes ahead with the wrong coffin. At the conclusion thereof the coffin is not burnt but, presumably, taken home by the funeral director.

So she/he’s now got two dead people, one of whom ought to be ashes. What did she/he do next?

The Belfast Telegraph does not tell us here. The crematorium was Loughborough (Dignity plc) and the undertaker has yet to be named. 




  1. Charles

    This news item raises an interesting question about who is in charge. The inappropriately cosy relationships I have observed between some crems and fds could all too readily lead to dishonourable collusions.

    It will be fascinating to know what ‘solution’ is worked out with the bereaved and then deceived family.

    And why is the story being reported from Belfast?

  2. Charles

    I hope your presumption is wrong Charles. The FBCA Code of Cremation Practice states that “When the coffin is in place on the catafalque … [the funeral director’s] responsibility towards it ceases, and that of the Cremation Authority begins.” Furthermore “A body shall not be removed from the Crematorium after the Service of Committal”. (Before anyone says it, the capitals are from the code, not mine!)

    On the surface this would perhaps appear to be a half story? But who knows what will transpire?

  3. Charles

    What’s the power of the Code, I wonder?

    And I can’t think what might have happened other than that the coffin went back with the undertaker. What else?

    Presumably the Code says you’ve got to cremate after committal.

    Ach, I have neither the wit nor the expertise to get to the bottom of this. Thank you very much for your informative comment, Mr Kingfisher.

    Let us hope all will eventually be revealed.

  4. Charles

    The independent FD is named in the article and it is clear that th family has been informed.

    “A spokesman for Loughborough and District Funeral Service, which was responsible for taking the wrong coffin to the crematorium, said: “Our colleagues’ first concern is with the families of the bereaved.”

    “We have already spoken to the families involved and offered our sincerest apologies. We will do all we can to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion for everyone affected.”

  5. Charles

    I feel I have a duty to add my two penny worth though for me at present ‘silence is Golden’ where anything to do with the inner workings of the entire Dignity crematoria estate is concerned.

    However I will lighten the mood with a little narrative about a coffin that arrived with one of what I call part time one man concerns that doubles as a chippy.

    I immediately spotted that the name on the plate was the sister of the deceased, one of only 3 mourners. The poor guy and his two bearers went into complete panic, covering the plate with flowers with a celebrant who shall we say likes the family to gather around the catafalc. You could smell the sweat and the involuntary bowel movement!. It was all OK though.

  6. Charles

    Richard, do you mean chippy as in frying, or chippy as in woodworker? If the former, I’d love to see their marketing blurb….

  7. Charles

    What ought to have happened, presumably, is that the crematorium should have refused the coffin its place on the catafalque and the funeral been postponed, or what’s the procedure of checking the nameplate supposed to be for?

    But given that it went through, against the rules, it ought to have been kept at the crematorium until its due date for cremation and hauled back out onto the catafalque for its second funeral, as meanwhile the right coffin should have been brought for cremation. Assuming, obviously, that one is comfortable with deceiving the family that this was their dead person and not someone else’s. Oh, and that it wouldn’t begin to smell by the scheduled date.

    That is, of course, unless the second doctor hadn’t got round to completing form 5, confirmatory medical certificate, in which case the crematorium would have to break another rule: “A body shall not be removed from the Crematorium after the Service of Committal”.

    I’m not sure that the code says you have to cremate after the committal; I believe only certain crematoria have the ‘no overnight waiting’ rule at their own discretion – correct, KF? – but it all raises some questions, such as; never mind “do you get the right ashes?”…

    What a horrible mess can result from all this mystique that certain funeral professionals like to cultivate.

  8. Charles

    I would very much like to assist in solving this conundrum but one really needs to ask those within.

    Now, I have a Dignity service contract which has proven to be a worthless piece of paper with absolutely no enforcement power in law.

    Anyone with one of these contracts can take heart that the following sections 5.1,5.2 and 5.3 have no legal weight what so ever:

    5.1 – The Contractor shall keep secret and shall not at any time (whether during the continuance or after the termination of this agreement for whatever reason) use for the Contractors own or anthers advantage, or reveal to any person,firm or company, any of the trade secrets, business methods or information which the Contractor knew or ought to have reasonably known to be confidential (whether or not marked as confidential concerning the business affairs of the Company, or any of its clients so far as they have come to this knowledge of the Contractor during the term.

    5.2 – This restriction will continue to apply after the termination of this agreement without limit of time but will cease to apply to information which may come into the public domain otherwise than unauthorised disclosure by the Contractor. The Contractor shall not be prevented by this clause from using any general knowledge, experience or skill which was in the Contractor’s possession prior to this agreement or which is independently developed or acquired otherwise than in the provision of the services.

    5.3 – This restriction shall not apply to any disclosure or use authorised by the Company in writing or required by law or by this agreement.


  9. Charles

    Jonathan, yes, it goes without saying that the crematorium ought not have accepted the coffin in the first place. One would hope that with hindsight this is what everyone wishes had happened. But with hindsight the funeral director ought to have admitted the mistake and not continued with the funeral (at least, not with the wrong coffin in place). But hindsight…

    Yes, crematoria are allowed to hold coffins for up to 72 hours I believe. But there is the assumption that the coffin which was actually placed on the catafalque was destined for the same crematorium (or indeed, destined for cremation at all).

    All this of course opens up still more questions. Although crematoria (and cemeteries) check name plates, there is absolutely nothing that guarantees that the name plate refers to the person inside the coffin, is there?

  10. Charles

    First Twitter thingy for me. Broadcast the kick off of ‘Crem Wars’ with ref to GFG site.

    Twitter name is Richard of Kingsnympton although it gets cut off at the n. Chose Lady Gaga, Paul Schofield, The Rolling Stones, Simon Cowell(to annoy him), Ozzie Osborne(Big Birmingham/Sutton Colfield character), Rev Run (whoever he is), Counting Crows and an attractive chateusse who I’m keeping a secret!

  11. Charles

    I think the crematorium would not normally check the coffin details until after the committal? By then, it would be too late to refuse the coffin. If such an error was made – and we know who usually makes these kind of ba115 ups – the crematorium could spare everyone’s feelings, by allowing the FD to remove the coffin, substituting the correct one.

    I know this is wrong, and am not aware of it ever happening, but my solution would spare the family distress. I might point out my own business has sensible procedures that we follow to prevent such an appalling cock-up from occurring in the first place. As do most decent FD’s.

  12. Charles

    Sparing feelings is one thing, but holding a funeral for a wrong body is something else, I’d have thought. If that happens, you have to come clean, surely?

    Interesting how all reports of this story talk about the wrong coffin. Right body, wrong coffin? Hardly seems possible, does it? More a case of clever wording of a press release.

    Loughborough and District, of course, is a branch, healthy or rotten, of Midlands Co-op, god rest their souls.

  13. Charles

    Gentlemen – I believe avoiding such an appalling failure in the first place is the least any decent FD would do. But, yes, having made such a basic error, I think my suggestion is a reasonable one. The correct body would be cremated, the correct ashes would be returned. All of this could occur within a few minutes of the committal if the real coffin had been sent as the service proceeded.

    I once had a very decomposed body. The stench was very noticeable from the coffin, despite our efforts to seal the deceased inside it. To protect the family, I did consider (CONSIDER) proceeding with the funeral without the deceased. I would have taken him/her separately to the crematorium, substituting the real coffin for an empty one used for the church service and crematorium committal. This substitution would have occurred behind the scenes, sparing the family the distress of the stench. Now, I ask you, is that good funeral directing?

    I did not ask the crematorium to allow me to do this – so have no idea if they would have agreed to my plan.

  14. Charles

    Mr XX pitches us an interesting conundrum.

    To respond to his question whether his tentative idea would be good practice requires more information, I’d say, than he has given us. One would need to know more about the circumstances of the death and the relationships between the bereaved and the dead person.

    And one would have to review the purposes – beyond mere disposal – of that particular funeral.

    ‘Sparing the family distress’ has the danger of being a slippery slope towards . . . . ?

  15. Charles

    Yes Kathryn. I agree the ‘slippery slope’ is certainly the enemy of good practice.

    I do often wonder if some people appreciate the distressing condition that some of the people in our care can be in? Dealing with these matters is sometimes a part of our job – a part that demands a lot of sensitivity and careful thought. And often of course, some carefully chosen words.

  16. Charles

    Ah Mr XX it’s not just about the cremation though, is it? I see the dilemma for the FD. Spare his embarrassment, er I mean spare the family the distress caused by him making such a f***k up. This kind of subterfuge can only work if everyone keeps shtum and patently they cant!

    This has caused much debate in the Meronothite household. What IS the right thing? Or what is the LEAST wrong thing? Mr M feels the debate is does the body NEED to be there, who is the funeral for? He is in favour of sparing the family further distress, given that the mistake has been made, people have travelled etc etc. (needless to say he firmly believes that the mistake shouldn’t ever have come to pass!)

    Mrs M ( heartless and thinking only of herself) feels honesty must always prevail..beware your sins will find you out and all that…..because if you go the first route, go ahead with the wrong body in the right box or the right body in the wrong box then why bother with the body in the box at all?

    She feels the treachery of deceit would cause her to wither and die before ever uttering a word of farewell even if she could cross all her fingers behind her back whilst applying her most sincere expression of compassion as she bowed reverentially to the WRONG BODY.

    I know what…..we could have a selection of coffins at the Crem, like the different coloured ties that FDs are so fond of, and push out an appropriate one to ‘represent’ the one the deceased would have preferred. The deceased doesn’t need to be in the room, as long as there is something on the catafalque…. to aim our waves, words and tears at… He can be in any old flammable container round the back awaiting his final push….. at the FDs convenience of course.

    Ps as for the smelly one – death is rotten and maybe we shouldn’t be so squeamish about that reality. ….but I hope I get someone with your compassion for any of my beloveds’ funerals. Fingers crossed!

  17. Charles

    Am I right in thinking that you come down on the side of benevolent deception, Jedeiah, but against incompetence? I don’t know that any sort of deception, however well meant, is ever permissible. It’s irrational to bring an insensate corpse to a funeral, but people feel they need to do it because presumably they feel that it in some way embodies the person they’ve come to say thanks and goodbye to, and that it is, therefore, the beneficiary of the proceedings. The corpse is the focus. The wrong corpse, or no corpse, renders the proceedings null, void and meaningless.

    Which being the case, Mr XX, I think a kindlier alternative to the predicament you describe, if 4 bodybags won’t do the trick, is to tell the family there’s a problem, and discuss a farewell ceremony for ashes. The body belongs to the family. It’s their problem.

  18. Charles

    That dear Charles, is another debate entirely: is all deception malevolent?

    I cannot tell a lie I’m afraid, if I saw the wrong name on the coffin I wouldn’t go ahead… I think…Probably.. Don’t make me decide!

    Our council crems vary in their checking in procedures, from’ clipboard, moving the flowers and much ticking’, to ‘am I bovvered?’ In my world there would never be a mistake so the decision would never arise. Ahem.

    Mr XX I’m all in favour of many body bags and lots of Crem film too, had one such myself….In a wicker coffin too….. It was fine till the NOK decided they would like the earrings after all….

  19. Charles

    Jehdeiah, the white lie is an absolutely essential coin in anyone’s social currency and I guess I tell upward of a dozen every day. Probably double that. My fear is that in a wrong-body scenario it becomes, for all the good intentions behind it, a cruel trick. I hope this doesn’t sound insufferably pompous.

  20. Charles

    No not pompous, defender of the good funeral!
    I agree, the mess the lie creates far outweighs the brief solace it may appear to afford the family. It’s the knee jerk reaction of a terrified FD who is hoping against all hope that he/ she can cover up their own incompetence . They are too often bears of little brain….otherwise they woud have checked. But it did make me think does anybody really know who is in the box??

  21. Charles


    Do keep your Dignity!

    With Ja’s assistance, Mr Steve Jobs and The Sultan of Oman we will all be enjoying a new but hard working future come Monday!

  22. Charles

    Jehdeiah – you made me laugh out loud. Thank you. Earrings indeed. It’s happened to us all. Charles, as ever, you are right on all counts. Honesty and white lies, we are all guilty as charged.

  23. Charles

    Much as Rosie might say that, I would like to point out that it was actually me, Ru Callender, typing from the Dr Strangelove headquarters of The Natural Death Centre, deep underground in every sense..

  24. Charles

    Good point. Last week, my small business had ten identical coffins on the premises. Not all of them had yet been fitted with name-plates. I do trust my procedures, but to be fair can also see how mistakes are made at the Co-op and Dignity. It is but one small reason why I would not trust the care of my loved-ones to either organisation.

  25. Charles

    That’s a great-looking coffin design, Jehdeiah, even without the window. Thanks for the information.

    Have you seen one ‘in the flesh’?

  26. Charles

    No, fraid not, I stumbled across this on one of those weird and wonderful treasure hunt trips round ‘t’internet that seem to emanate so readily from the GFG blog. It’s a Dutch enterprise.

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