Our Direct it Yourself Green Funeral

From time to time, we publish guest blogs, and today we are delighted to share this beautiful account by Kirsty O’Leary-Leeson who writes movingly about her personal experience organising a funeral for her mum.

“I am writing this because we shouldn’t be scared of organising funerals; we all go away in the end. I believe that a DIY or Direct it Yourself burial is far simpler than people think and should be encouraged where possible. It wasn’t emotionally easy, but then the death of a loved one never shall be, but I am extraordinarily proud of what my brother and I did for our mum.

In July 2016 my mum was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer called Multiple Myeloma. It was hoped that with chemotherapy she would have a bit more time. It was not to be and in the early hours of 18th August 2016, my beautiful mum passed away, myself and my brother Simon with her. 

Mum had discussed with me whether to buy a burial plot a couple of years before and I had just laughed and told her to save the money, after all, what if she was lost at sea or blew up in a tragic plane accident, and there was no body to bury!  She had worried about the cost of a funeral, and we had laughingly reassured her that we would just shove her in the back of our people carrier and wouldn’t spend a lot.

As a family we were not scared of discussing death, and approached it with a sense of humour. This helped my brother and I when it came to having to organising an unplanned funeral, as Mum had actually left her body to medical science, not really because science meant a lot to her but so that her small, but hard-earned savings could go to her family and not into burying a body.  However, because of the chemo, mum’s body could not be accepted by our local teaching hospital.

Mum was a bit of a hippy, very spiritual but not religious and we knew she had looked into a green burial site called Nar Valley, in Pentney Kings Lynn, about an hour’s drive away from us. We went and had a look, and it was a peaceful meadow abutting the graveyard of the local church, and we decided that it would be a nice place for mum to lay her bones. 

I had looked into funerals and was shocked at how expensive it all was, particularly how much funeral directors charged and for what? We obviously had to pay for the burial site, but we could save almost £300 by digging the grave ourselves, however we decided that probably by the time we got up to our knees we would be seriously regretting it and decided instead to pay the charge.  We booked it for 31st August, mum’s birthday and two days before her eldest grandaughter left to go travelling in Australia. This didn’t give us much time.

I bought a white cardboard coffin from Ebay, several hundred pounds cheaper than from any website. (It came through the post in another large cardboard box and it said what it was on the outside – must have given the local courier service something to discuss). I am an artist and I began to decorate it in pastel landscapes. I also printed lots of photos of the family and glued them around the edges, plus I asked family and friends to send me cards and poems that were also added. It looked beautiful.

Whilst preparing all this mum’s body remained at the hospital mortuary, this is fine with the hospital and doesn’t cost anything, my brother simply phoned them to organise the day and time of collection and they were happy to wrap/clothe her and put her in the coffin. You just need to take the death certificate with you, and it is considered polite to offer the staff a small thankyou gift. We decided to transport mum from the mortuary to the burial site in a beautiful VW camper van. Mum was a real gypsy at heart and there was no way I was going to put her in a depressing black hearse. I found a local chap on gumtree who hired one out for celebrations and he was very understanding and helpful. My brother collected it the night before, came over to me and picked up the coffin, then the day of the funeral he drove it to the mortuary, picked mum up and drove her to Pentney. The camper van was perfect because the back opened up and the coffin could be easily slid in and out. The curtains could also be pulled closed whilst driving, as apparently you can drive a dead body around quite legally but it shouldn’t be on show. The van had bunting and flowers decorating it, and music could be played on the sound system, so it was very jolly.

At the burial site the camper van drove up close to the grave and family members moved the coffin from the van. It was placed on wooden batons that went over the grave.

Garden chairs were put out at the burial site, and there were no formal flower tributes, I had sent out a request for garden and wild flower posies instead. We were blessed by beautiful weather and the flowers were placed in decorated jars which attracted butterflies.

People began to arrive, and time was spent looking at all the pictures and photos on the coffin. When everyone had arrived we began our little service. I had contacted all the family members, and they could either say something themselves on the day, or send me a poem or some words that they would like to have read out on their behalf. I typed these up into an order of service for my husband Jamie and my sister in law’s father, Trevor, who were both officiating. They read out the welcome that my brother wrote, we had a couple of minutes silence and then I read out my own tribute – I struggled a bit but it meant a lot to do it myself (that’s why I put myself first). Then my brother read out his chosen poem, Jamie and Trevor took it in turns to read out the rest of the poems. My daughter Adara attempted to read hers, but she only got a short way through, so another family member took over, because it was quite informal and relaxed this happened quite naturally. There were no strict timings like you have at churches or crematoriums, we did everything in our own time.

At the end we played a song she had mentioned to my sister in law that she would like, Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ we all laughed and jigged around a bit, and just as it finished four jets flew over in formation, another two had flown over just as we started the service – ok so I can’t promise that this will happen if you DIY a funeral but everything about the day was beautiful and wonderful and although there was sadness and tears I can only think of mum’s burial as a lovely thing.

We decided not to lower the coffin ourselves, we didn’t want to risk it turning into a 70′s BBC farce, we weren’t going to do the throwing in the dirt thing anyway and we thought it would be difficult for the children to see, and so we left the coffin where it was. The lady who owned the burial site had arranged for it to be lowered and filled in within 15 mins or so of our leaving.

We all went off and had a picnic, no getting maudlin at a pub, instead it was fizzy drinks, cups of tea and vegetarian sausage rolls. It was a beautiful day for a beautiful soul.

Over 7 years later, friends and family still talk about it being the most wonderful send-off. Far less of an endurance task than a formal funeral where you are told where to go and what to do and which I have found to be very stressful. It was great not to have any strangers involved, no matter how nice funeral director’s staff are, they are simply doing a job.

I personally have asked to have a ‘direct to cremation’ so no coffins just a celebration at the point of scattering the ashes, however, if any of my four children feel the need to take my body to the crematorium in a decorated cardboard coffin at least they know how to do it.”

Kirsty O-Leary-Leeson

Lawrence’s story

The following story is not new and it has been published elsewhere. I’d not seen it, and perhaps you hadn’t, either. It was sent to me by Lawrence’s mother, Virginia Prifti. 

“Lawrence’s death and cremation was incredibly powerful for us as a family. We decided to take control, organise our own goodbyes and keep Lawrence with us at home. It was very therapeutic and helped us to come to terms with his death over the five days. During that time I learnt that death was nothing to be afraid of –but like birth, it is a completely natural event.”

In late Spring 2004, my six-year-old son Lawrence was diagnosed with a very rare genetic degenerative terminal condition called Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). We were told that we might have another six months of near normality, but that after that the disease would take its hold quickly and that Lawrence would end up in a vegetative state.

By December Lawrence had developed a sickness bug and ended up in hospital. He recovered quickly and was discharged from hospital the following day, but when I went to get him up I discovered to my horror that he had lost the ability to walk. This was the start of a pattern – sickness bug followed by a dramatic decline – until the ability to move, talk and swallow had disappeared.

In late July Lawrence developed yet another sickness bug. My husband, Peter, and I took the decision that Lawrence had spent too long in hospital recently and that we would keep him at home. When we first received the diagnosis I was adamant that I did not want Lawrence to die at home, but now I realised that he needed to die in his home, surrounded by familiar things, and with us with him.

On the evening of July 22nd 2005 Lawrence died at home, surrounded by his family and all things familiar.  We had been able to love and comfort him and I put his favourite Mozart CD on which seemed to calm him. I sat next to him and stroked his arm. I told him just to let go – that he shouldn’t fight. I told him how much we loved him and how much we were going to miss him, but that he would always be with us.

After Lawrence had died, we took him up to his bedroom and laid him on his bed, we changed him into his favourite clothes – combat trousers and a khaki T-shirt. We knew we should turn our minds to his cremation, but I have always had a problem with the undertaking business, and find the idea of lavish funerals distasteful.

I had seen a programme about a ‘green funeral service’ and had been struck by how lovely it was. I couldn’t imagine how one would go about organising this, but the local crematorium advised me that it would be much easier if involved a funeral director. I phoned our recommended undertaker and was horrified by the call – he wanted to come and get Lawrence’s body that afternoon, but wouldn’t tell me how much he was going to charge for the service. He wouldn’t entertain my idea of an ‘eco friendly’ cardboard coffin and tried to push me into a quick decision. He ‘phoned again to say that he would be in the vicinity soon so could collect the body. When I told him that this was not possible, he started to sound quite menacing – he told me that he had heard that I was considering a ‘DIY’ funeral and informed me that I couldn’t just do my own thing, I needed to ‘play by the book’.

I realised that there was no way that I was going to let my precious child go off with some complete stranger. I wanted him at home – it was still where he belonged even though he was dead! I still needed to look after him.

Two friends who had been medically trained very kindly offered to come and give Lawrence what I called his ‘makeover’. They closed his eyes and mouth and washed him, cut his nails and did his hair. All the time they were with him they chatted to him and treated him with such care and tenderness. This was the turning point for me – I realised that if I treated him as if he was still alive, I would find going into his room much less scary.

A friend brought an industrial air conditioner to keep his room chilled. Another friend came to visit with a gorgeous bunch of highly scented stocks, and another with a posy that she had made out of lavender and rosemary also to put in his room. I was amazed and very touched at the number of people who wanted to say goodbye to him. Imogen our daughter, meanwhile had made herself scarce. We were worried about the fact that she was scared to be in the house with Lawrence.

Over the next couple of days the house was inundated with visitors, most of whom were keen to go to Lawrence’s room to say goodbye to him. Most people stroked his hair or kissed his forehead, and I had to keep a hairbrush beside the bed to rearrange Lawrence’s hair into his usual style so that he looked like himself!

Imogen, by this time, had completely come to terms with Lawrence being at home, and spent hours in his room with her friends – chatting to him, doing his hair, stroking his arms and kissing him. It was really lovely to see her behaving like this, having been so scared of Lawrence just after he had died.

On the Wednesday we decorated the coffin.We had found a supplier of wicker coffins on the Internet – it was the most beautifully hand crafted object. Our neighbours helped to decorate it, creating posies using garden flowers and herbs. Another neighbour made the most magnificent bouquet out of garden roses, honeysuckle and wild flowers. I wanted something soft for Lawrence to lie on, so Imogen cut down half our leylandi hedge and mixed this with the best part of a rosemary bush – it did look very comfortable and smelled lovely.

and then just before we left, Peter carried Lawrence downstairs and put him into it. We loaded him into our car– it felt as if we were going on a family outing. We had a very simple but moving ceremony at the crematorium.

The whole process of Lawrence’s death and cremation was incredibly powerful for us as a family. Keeping Lawrence at home was very therapeutic and helped us to come to terms with his death over the five days. During that time I learnt that death was nothing to be afraid of – like birth, it is a completely natural event. I am still so glad that we did things the way we did, it helped us to move on and feel more positive about Lawrence’s illness and death.

I would encourage anyone who has ever thought about making their own arrangements for a funeral or cremation to go ahead. It is very simple and we found the local crematorium very helpful. The Register Office can also help you complete the paperwork. Most district nurses would be willing to come out and sort the body out after death. There are various sites on the Internet which sell alternative coffins – cardboard, willow or bamboo.

Virginia Prifti

ED’S NOTE: Virginia set up a charity project in Lawrence’s memory. It’s called Lawrence’s Roundabout Well Appeal. All money raised is used for building PlayPumps™ in Africa. “The roundabout playpump combines a children’s roundabout with a pump. The pumps are usually installed in schools to harness the natural energy of children. As the children play on the roundabout they pump water into a holding tank at the rate of 1400 litres per hour.”  You can see Lawrence’s wells here.

It’s legal to care for your own

Kimberlyrenee Gamboa’s son Kyle took his own life by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in September, three weeks into his senior year in high school.

A seemingly happy 18-year-old with lots of friends and into competitive lasertag, Kyle’s death was such a shock, his mother said, she doesn’t know how she’d have managed it through a typical funeral.

Instead, with help from her church and and home death guide, Heidi Boucher, Kyle’s body was returned to the family home one day after his death. Boucher washed Kyle and helped arrange the body on dry ice changed every 24 hours; she gathered information to fill out Kyle’s death certificate and managed all coordination with the mortuary. For three full days, Kyle’s body lay in the family living room in an open casket, not embalmed. During that time, day and night, surrounded by pictures and candles and flowers, all of his friends and family could say good-bye and remember his short life. For Kyle’s mother, that time was critical to her healing.


An intimate and loving burial

When Alex Dudley-Smith’s mother died this month, she set about organising a fitting sendoff for her. Here is her account of what she did. 

The unexpected death of my mother meant we were not prepared in any way for the organisation and costs of a funeral.

This is the first time I’ve been responsible for sorting out a funeral and was anxious as I didn’t know where to start. But I did know what mum wanted, as we had often spoken of what to do with her body when she eventually died.

My mum died in hospital, so her body was held in the hospital morgue and I wanted to remove her body from there as quickly as possible and bury it. So I immediately started researching on the internet to see what was the usual way of doing a burial with the funeral directors, burial sites and coffins. It was expensive and, for me, it lacked something which at the time I could not put my finger on. I then started to look at natural burial sites, as mum had often spoken about wanting her body to be returned to the earth just as she had come into the world, completely naked!

Fortunately I found Natural Burial Grounds which showed photos of various sites in our area and there was one that immediately resonated with me and a burial plot was immediately arranged. The gentleman who runs Natural Burial Grounds organised this with the utmost sensitivity and kindness, taking a massive weight off my shoulders.

Next thing on my list was what to put mum’s body in. She had mentioned being buried in her birthday suit, but that was too much for me and the hospital would dig their heels in, seeing it as being disrespectful to the deceased. I then came across a YouTube video of an amazing lady who did her mother’s burial herself, completely from start to finish,  collecting her mother’s body (which was wrapped in a shroud, no coffin!) from the morgue and going on a wonderful journey to the burial site, where she dug the grave herself and finally laid her mother’s body to rest. It was very inspirational and gave me the hope and focus that I could give mum’s body the intimate and loving burial she had wished for. Deciding that her body would be buried in a shroud, a beautiful American quilt with stars embroidered all over it, in remembrance of the joyful years we had living in Washington DC, and eventually laying her body to rest on a bed of roses. We did not have a minister, as we chose to do the service ourselves, each member of the family and friends playing a part.

Now the hospital had to be informed of my plans to collect mum’s body from their morgue. Usually this is done by funeral directors, but there is another way: you can do it yourself. This may sound daunting, as the idea of handling the dead body of a loved one can be strange to say the least. The truth is, it was the most natural thing to do. Having spent my whole life with my mother it seemed right to be the one to carry her body from the morgue to the burial site, rather then leaving it to a funeral director, a stranger, who had no connection with my mum during her lifetime.

I telephoned the hospital, informing them of the date and time I would be collecting mum’s body. Of course they were very unsure of what the rules and regulations are and I could understand their uncertainty, as most hospitals and doctors do not know the law on who is legally responsible for the body of a loved one. I was mum’s Power of Attorney and Executor of her will and therefore legally allowed to take her body from the morgue to the burial. If the hospital refused to release her body to me, they would be breaking the law! Wanting to make sure everything ran smoothly on the day of the collection, I did a dummy run the previous day, which was very useful in meeting the hospital staff who would be helping me with mum’s body, and essential in finding the pick-up point for the morgue. It was a first time for them, handing a body over to someone who wasn’t a funeral director, and a first time for me. On the day of the funeral, the transfer of mum’s body went quickly and smoothly, with the hospital porter remarking how good it was that family and friends were participating in such a way and that he expects to see more of this happening in the future.

Mum’s body comfortably positioned in the car and surrounded by roses, we began our journey through beautiful scenery of mountains, rivers and woodlands, finally reaching our destination where mum’s body was to be buried. The estate manager was there to greet us and had very thoughtfully built a board with straps, in order to lower mum’s body into the grave. This he made, knowing that mum’s body wasn’t in a coffin, something I hadn’t thought of! I’m so grateful for his kindness.

Everything about that day was so beautiful and I’m blessed to have had such a life enhancing opportunity. It is a day that my family, friends and I will always hold dear in our hearts and remember with joy and gratitude.

The burial ground was Cothiemuir Hill and the helpful man from the estate was Steven Clark, the grave digger.

EXCLUSIVE: It’s going to be one wacky sendoff for Downton’s Matthew

The GFG can exclusively reveal that Downton star Matthew Crawley will be cremated in a way-out guerilla funeral on the ancestral estate in a ritual created by the grief-stricken family.

Devotees of toff-soap Downton Abbey were left dazed and heartbroken at the end of the 2012 Christmas special when heir Matthew Crawley was violently killed after his motor car flipped as it swerved to avoid an oncoming lorry.

According to plot notes for upcoming series 4, jotted by writer Julian Fellowes and seen exclusively by the GFG, a distraught Lady Mary will banish local undertaker Grassby’s men when they come to take Matthew’s body into their care.

In  heartrending scenes that follow, viewers will see Lady Mary supervise sobbing servants as they wash Matthew’s body, dress it in his favourite suit and lay it out in the state drawing room flanked by bowed footmen and surrounded by candles and essential oils. Here, it is reverently watched over by members of the family.

Meanwhile, it’s all hands to the pump downstairs as the servants are enlisted to build Matthew’s coffin and refurbish a derelict cremator (pictured) which was last used to cremate Lady Mary’s convention-busting great-grandfather Lord Bertram Crawley in 1882.

In a final agonising development, the funeral procession, led by butler Carson, is surrounded by police tipped off by villainous valet Thomas Barrow. After a tense standoff the proceedings are allowed to go ahead in a ceremony led by real-life funeral celebrant and GFG commenter Gloria Mundi.

The storyline is believed to be inspired by Fellowes’ near neighbour and cremation pioneer Captain Thomas Hanham, who lived just 20 miles away in Blandford Forum. Hanham illegally cremated his wife and his mother in the grounds of his estate. The authorities did not prosecute him and a few years later the first Cremation Act was passed.

The GFG believes that Fellowes intends to raise awareness of family-arranged or home funerals, sometimes termed DIY funerals. He was overheard at a funeral he recently attended to exclaim, “Why on earth do we hand over the whole bally shooting match to strangers? We really should jolly well do more of this ourselves.”

Fellowes’ plot notes reveal that he even considered cremating Matthew on an open-air pyre. A scribble in the margin betrays second thoughts: “No. A twist too far. Maybe for Maggie [Smith].” Dame Maggie Smith plays the part of the Dowager Countess of Grantham.

NOTE: Journalists and bloggers are asked as a matter of courtesy to acknowledge the GFG as their source when reporting this story.

‘This is the way it should be done’

An account of a home funeral: 

This is the first time I am so close. There is a body bag on the table, waiting to be opened. Our best friends’ 22-year-old son’s body is inside. His mother and father are across from me, brothers beside, with several women gathered to form the circle around the table. These women will become my sisters in the next five hours, as we prepare the body together.

Read the whole article here

Participation is transformative

From an article by Cassandra Yonder, home funeral guide and death midwife: 

The difference between home and “traditional” funerals is subtle yet significant. When families choose to stay present to care for their loved ones in death they come to understand in a real and meaningful way that the physical relationship they had with the person who died is ending. While this can be a painful transition, it offers grieving people an opportunity for adaptation which is difficult to grasp when post death care is handled entirely by professionals. Participation is transformative. Those who stay involved seem to have an easier time locating the continuing bond they still http://laparkan.com/buy-vardenafil/ share with the one who has died, and utilize those aspects of the relationship which survive death to move forward in their own lives.

Above all, home funerals bring dying and post death care back to the intimate setting of home. Families who choose to care for their own are usually those who accept that death is a normal and natural part of life that does not necessitate professional intervention. The intimacy of providing post death care for loved ones (as has been done throughout history) is a final act of love which can be surprisingly life affirming.


Join Cassandra’s Facebook group here. Find her website here

So silly to take sides

A few weeks ago I bumped into a funeral director I like and admire. He was bursting with something he had just learned and needed to share: Ken West is not bonkers, official. He’d met Ken at some do or other and had revelled in a feast of reason and a flow of soul with the great man.

The news did not come as a bombshell. Ken’s thinking runs with all the clarity of Pennine springwater, as all who know him will attest. No ranter he. Very nice man, to boot. 

Whence could such a misconception have sprung? From his long association with the Natural Death Centre? Did – does –  the NDC still evoke antipathy in undertakerly circles? In spite of their diplomatic efforts to heal rifts and work collaboratively with the ‘mainstream’? In spite of the success of the natural burial movement, one of Britain’s most successful cultural exports in the last fifty years? Are they still reckoned chattering class undertaker-bashers?

I don’t know. You tell us. 

What we do know for sure is that the deathcare industry tends to be chary of scrutiny, as the recent exposé of Co-operative Funeralcare reminds us. In the face of seeming adversity, the trade/profession circles the wagons, hunkers down and gets snarly.  

It’s not an easy mindset to analyse. You’ll be able to give us some pointers. Many undertakers have, in addition to justifiable pride in their work, an acute sense of amour propre. They can be prey to feelings of self-importance and we-know-best. They can be reflexively conservative. They are often happier dealing with things rather than ideas. In a word, prickly. Many, not all. 

It’s a shame. It’s a shame when perfectly decent people write off as a hostile force other perfectly decent people who feel they have important or interesting things to say. On a personal level, it is unjust, and that’s the point of this piece. 

Over in the US, where undertakers tend to suffer from the same abiding vices as so many of our own, a man called Todd Van Beck writes about his native funeral industry. He calls himself a ‘funeral educator, consultant and historian’. He’s very much an insider.

In appraising the home funeral movement, so buoyant over there, he concludes that the mainstream industry ought to consider commodifying this nonaligned and insubordinate practice by offering an “old fashioned home funerals package”. In doing so, the industry can outflank and marginalise those idealistic pioneers who developed home funerals and, at the same time, make some money out of a custom which is founded in self-help and altruism. 

In arguing his case, Mr Van Beck makes no attempt to hide his disdain for the home funeral movement. He also derides one of its pioneers, Holly Stevens:

I just finished reading a horribly boring article regarding home funerals published by Ms. Holly Stevens (a self-proclaimed funeral consumer advocate).

The article rehashed the negative feelings concerning  funeral undertakers, like Lisa Carlson has done for years (and has seemingly made a living doing so).

One new twist Ms. Steven’s took was referring to us funeral undertakers as “commercial morticians.”

I haven’t heard that one before.  Snappy title though…“Commercial Mortician.”

The piece goes on in similar snarky vein. 

Lisa Carlson is a doughty battler. She can look after herself. And she has the added advantage of being alive. 

Holly Stevens is dead. She died just over a year ago of cancer. She was was a highly intelligent and humane Quaker beloved of all who knew her.  Perhaps her most notable attribute was her gentleness. I never knew her, but I was/am a Facebook friend. You can probably find her memorial page there. Holly was one of the authors of Undertaken With Love: A Home Funeral Guide for Congregations and Communities, which you can download free. 

Let’s try to agree about two things.

First, there is no such thing as an alternative funeral and no such person as an alternative funeral director. Our dead belong to us, and so do their funerals. Everyone has the right to their own opinion and their own practice.

Second, debate is not merely useful, it’s vital. So is mutual respect. Digging trenches is silly. 

In the words of Thomas Lynch, the eminent US undertaker: “Some want to be empowered, others to be served, others not to be bothered at all. Our job is to meet them where they are on this continuum and help where we can when we’re asked.”

Busybody nonsense

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. 


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.


• 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.