The scandal waiting to happen — again and again

Some of you will not be surprised that the following story involves Andrew Baker.

It doesn’t end with him, guilty or not. When it comes to the mis-selling of pre-need funeral products, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

From the Gloucestershire Echo

Andrew Baker, aged 50, who lives in Pebworth near Honeybourne in Worcestershire was arrested this week by West Mercia police on suspicion of fraud. 

A spokesman for the force which serves Herefordshire and Worcestershire said: “A number of clients have recently contacted West Mercia Police to report they have been victims of fraud. Among these is the allegation clients paid thousands of pounds to either Honeybourne Funeral Services or Cotswold Funeral Services for funeral plan to be arranged only to find none of the services had been put in place.”

Detective Inspector Andy Price of South Worcestershire CID said: “We have taken the unusual step of naming Mr Baker and his companies at the point he has been arrested to reduce the chance of a family of a recently deceased person suffering further distress because of any criminality that may have taken place.

“We advise anyone who has taken out a funeral plan with Mr Baker, Cotswold Funeral Services or Honeybourne Funeral Services, to check that everything is as it should be.

Baby ashes scandal hits Edinburgh

From 1967 until last year, when a new manager was appointed and instituted a cleanup, Mortonhall crematorium, Edinburgh, has been telling parents that children who die antenatally or neonatally do not yield ashes when they are cremated. For an untold period the crematorium has been burying their ashes secretly in cardboard boxes in an unmarked, mass grave in a field behind the crematorium. 

You can read the story in the Scotsman here.  

Helen Henderson, 43, from Sighthill, said: “My son Nathan died when he was just one day old in August 2004. We were told by the undertaker that we would receive his ashes, but when we went to collect them a lady at the crematorium told us we had been misinformed and that there was nothing for us to collect, that ‘you don’t get any ashes from a baby’.

One grieving mother said that when she questioned the policy she was told it had been a result of “laziness and a bad attitude”.

It looks like a very bad business. Crematoria generally are well aware of the emotional needs of bereaved parents and do all in their power to retrieve some ash, however tiny the amount. The scandal at Mortonhall may well cast into doubt practices at other crematoria. Nothing could be more unfair. This is a sector which is characterised by, on the whole, high standards. 

It is likely that, back in 1967, when cremators were hotter and, in operation, more turbulent, there were no ashes after the cremation of a baby. Mortonhall’s culpability in lying to bereaved parents would seem to date from the installation of newer equipment whenever that might have been. 

Even today, cremation of a foetus younger than 24 weeks does not yield any remains. 

When a foetus miscarries or there is a neonatal death in a hospital, the hospital normally takes responsibility for funeral arrangements and will ordinarily have a contract with a funeral director to carry out these arrangements. If there was an contracted funeral director in this case, his or her failure to hold the crematorium to account is unaccountable. 

 A widespread practice is to cremate babies first thing in the morning, before the cremator has reached its full operating temperature. The cooler the burn, the easier it will be to retrieve some ash. 

 South-West Middlesex crematorium has its own baby cremator, which does not burn as hot as an adult cremator. At the Garden of England crematorium babies are cremated on a special tray. 
The Mortonhall scandal will be no less shocking and saddening to seasoned members of the funeral industry, for whom the funerals of babies and children never lose their poignancy.
 Your thoughts would be very welcome. 

Is it fair to portray our funeral industry in this way?

“That Funeral Director on your local High Street that looks like a trustworthy and caring family run business probably isn’t…this is an unregulated world in desperate need of reform.”

Fair comment?

You can read the ITV news of the programme here

All responses welcome — we practise no censorship here. Please do not make a statement that might be libellous; the GFG will be sued for publishing it. 

Cool heads, warm hearts

Anticipation is building in advance of ITV’s upcoming exposé of the funeral industry. We don’t have to tell you that the industry’s pulse is beating fast in anticipation of ITV’s upcoming shocker. Pre-emptive fury and sulphurous denunciation have already broken out in the comments columns of our blog, threatening to subvert the civility and coolness which normally characterise debate here. 

A more judicious course for all of us at this time would be dispassionately to appraise the evidence uncovered by the programme after we have seen it, consider the reactions of viewers — once and future clients of funeral service — and respond constructively. What some of the more intemperate writers of comments on this blog fail to understand is exactly how their ranting and stigmatising makes them look. You thought it was bad when you watched the programme? Look what these guys say, look at the way they say it.

As Bryan Powell (commenting under his real name, as he always does) points out here, the story of Funeral Partners is not all bad.  Well, it was unlikely to be as simple as that, was it? If you know enough, it’s impossible not to feel conflicted. One of the most superb funeral directors we know works for Funeral Partners. 

At the same time, it looks as if FPL is going to have some explaining to do. There will be different schools of thought on how such a deplorable state of affairs could have developed. 

The effectiveness of the NAFD will once again be called into question, and there is likely to be renewed call for regulation. The stated position of the NAFD is as follows:

Members of the National Association of  Funeral Directors are totally committed to raising and maintaining the highest level of customer service through the strict adherence to the Association’s Code of Practice. The NAFD supports the principle of self regulation of the funeral sector, whereby any business wishing to operate within the United Kingdom would be required to be in membership of a trade association operating a strictly monitored Code of Practice and a robust and independent client redress scheme.

Looking ahead to Wednesday (ITV, 10.35) there will be facts and there will be context. Let’s not generalise. The upside of a bloody awful mess like this is that it offers an opportunity to put things right. Cool heads and warm hearts  are called for. 

ITV’s upcoming undercover investigation into the funeral industry

It’s billed as an investigation into the unregulated world of the funeral industry, with some shocking undercover footage.’ From what we understand, it’s going to be that and more. 

The ITV exposé of deplorable behind-the-scenes practices is set to send buy cialis australia online shockwaves through the industry, once again exposing the impotence of industry trade associations to protect consumers by policing their members. 

The working title is The British Way of Death and it’s on ITV on 26 September Wednesday at 10.35 pm. 


Simple solution


We had an enquiry the other day about simple funerals. Our enquirer had visited the website of a funeral director, surveyed the components of their simple funeral (as prescribed by the NAFD at 11.4), and reckoned it would do nicely. The cost was £1640.

All our enquirer wanted on top was a limousine. He gave the funeral director his order: one simple funeral, please, and a limousine. So logical and straightforward did the request seem to him that he was astounded when the funeral director replied, “Thank you, sir, that’ll be £3670.”

Two grand for a limousine (fair price, £200 tops). Where the heck did that come from?

Students of the Dismal Trade will not be nearly as astounded as was our enquirer. Most funeral directors hate people buying their simple funeral, so they build in deterrents. The example above is just one. Anything outside the package shunts you up to an altogether more elevated price scale. Add a lim and you pay for a bespoke funeral. Another trick is to bundle a coffin of more than passing hideousness and make you feel like a toerag. The coffin in our enquirer’s simple bundle has no handles. Yes, really. Flagrant to those who read this blog, perhaps, but not, interestingly, something that our enquirer seems to have noticed or cared about.

A great many funeral directors do not advertise their simple funeral. Why does this funeral director advertise his? Is it a gambit to get people through the door – a loss leader that no one ever actually gets to buy? You tell me.

This sort of marketing sleight of hand comes from the Tommy Cooper school of conjuring. Clumsy. When you do something that’s bound to be found out, that’s stupid.
Intelligent, ethical funeral directors can teach their dim or devious fellows a trick here. Start with your professional fee. Calculate how much you need to charge to cover your time, expenses and overheads, then add a bit of profit. Be settled in your mind that what you take home will not be so little as to make you resentful. Once you’ve done that, you can add merchandise and services at a normal retail markup or even at cost. If a client turns up with their own coffin, you won’t mind a bit. The important thing is that there will be no imperative to upsell.

Exploitation of the bereaved is under threat, not from consumers, but from new entrants to the industry who are pricing their services fairly and transparently. The days of the dark arts are, we must hope, coming to an end.

Not yet awhile. Down in London, Barbie Leets was compelled to permit her mother to have a public health or council funeral when she failed to get together the five thousand pounds she needed to bury her. She is angry with the funeral directors in her locality. Why? In the words of the BBC report:

Barbie Leets ‘says that she was never told about the simple funeral that every funeral director is supposed to offer for nearly half the price she was quoted. “I feel very let down, very disappointed. I feel they took advantage of my situation at the time.”’

Watch the video clip here. Enjoy the response from NAFD spokesperson Dominic Maguire.

If you have a view about this, please add a comment. I am conscious that what I have written may not say it all. Examples of ethical simple funerals welcome, too.

Channel 4’s Dispatches set to rumble the undertakers

“Dispatches lifts the lid on the funeral industry. Using undercover filming, Jackie Long investigates what really happens to our loved ones when they die.”

Monday June 25 at 8.00pm. Channel 4. 

In certain districts of Funeralworld, fear stalks the streets.

Cancel all other appointments.


Free, easy, devastating

Posted by Charles

Funeral shoppers are nervous shoppers. They are in unknown territory, they’ve got nothing to go by. Of all shoppers, funeral shoppers are the most likely, if they catch a glint or a whiff of anything negative about a funeral director, to rear up, eyes rolling, and gallop away as fast as they can. 

That is the power of Qype and all those other review websites. We know we can’t trust everything we read on Amazon and Tripadvisor, but we can bring some experience to bear and come to a considered judgement. Funeral shoppers don’t have that sort of savvy to guide them. 

Here at the GFG we list funeral directors we like (not nearly enough; it’s a work in progress) and we post reviews from consumers. We have enough nous to sort them at source. Almost all negative reviews come from, surprise surprise, rival funeral directors. These reviews are easy to spot and delete because they usually employ undertakerly jargon. “The causal way he paiged the hearse was a discrace” is a dead giveaway. But some feedback, though sincerely meant, may be wide of the mark. A recent poor review of a GFG funeral director was sent in by an ex-wife whose children had arranged the funeral with an ‘alternative’ funeral director. The children had no complaint, but the complainant hadn’t liked the non-traditional style of the funeral. The funeral director was blameless and the complaint was a matter between herself and her children. I didn’t post it. 

But Qype might have — almost certainly would have. It would have been enough to frighten a lot of horses. 

In the case of malicious complaints, the potential for damage is enormous. Did you read about the recent experience of Damian Melville of Melville and Daughters, Tottenham?

The owner of a Tottenham funeral firm claims his business has fallen victim to a cyber bully leaving “fake” feedback on a review website.

Damian Melville, 33, opened Melville and Daughters funeral directors in West Green Road two years ago to ensure future job security for his children, aged five and 12.

Mr Melville, who lives in Enfield Chase, first started noticing the less than favourable reviews on the popular business review website, Qype, in December, but is now seeking criminal action against the internet user.

The claims, which show up as the first result on search engine Google, include information about how the supposed customer was “hounded” by the firm four days after the funeral to pay for overdue payments.

The Qype user also complained about the late arrival of the horse-drawn hearse and the use of an ill-fitting wig on the body of a deceased person. [Source]

Mr Melville has had to resort to expensive litigation to get the reviews removed — but not after they’d done incalculable reputational damage. 

It is unlikely that Mr Melville is the first to have suffered in this way. He certainly won’t be the last. For both funeral shoppers and funeral directors these online review sites are a serious matter.