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Let Baby P rest in peace, says cleric who took his funeral

by
26 November 2008

by Margaret Holness

Baby P ITV NEWS/PA

Baby P ITV NEWS/PA

IT IS A YEAR this Sunday since the funeral of the toddler now known to the world as Baby P took place at a north-London crematorium. The Anglican priest who conducted the ceremony wants to put the record straight.

“This was no scantily attended ‘pauper’s funeral’, as some reports have claimed,” she said this week. “It was a dignified occasion, planned with great care by Baby P’s father and close family. They chose music and poems that helped them express their feelings. And when the day came, rela­tives and friends packed the crem­atorium chapel. Some had travelled from Scotland to show solidarity. There was no mistaking their sorrow.”

A former nursery leader, the priest is often asked to take funerals of babies and young children, especially when a particular kind of sensitivity is needed. She wishes to be known only as Margaret because, she says: “This is Baby P’s story, not mine.”

On this occasion, she was told only that the baby had died in tragic circumstances, that the mother was in prison, and the chief mourner was the father. She was unaware at the time that the mother was implicated in the death of her baby at the hands of her boyfriend and a lodger.

Details of these extreme circum­stances went unmentioned when she visited the father. “He hadn’t been able to see his baby for weeks before he died three months earlier. Then officials had taken over. I felt it was important for him to have the funeral he wanted for his child, to be in con­trol. He said his child was now ‘out of pain’. He wanted, he said, a dignified funeral ‘so he can rest in peace’.”

As the funeral began on Friday 30 November last year, using the popular setting of Psalm 23, Baby P’s father carried his son’s coffin into the chapel. He spoke during the service of his brief memories of the boy’s life. Members of the family read poems, and, as the service ended, mourners listened to Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”, which was written after the rock musician’s young child was killed in a fall.

As the funeral began on Friday 30 November last year, using the popular setting of Psalm 23, Baby P’s father carried his son’s coffin into the chapel. He spoke during the service of his brief memories of the boy’s life. Members of the family read poems, and, as the service ended, mourners listened to Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”, which was written after the rock musician’s young child was killed in a fall.

Outside the crematorium chapel, relatives from both sides of the family talked to each other of their grief and bewilderment. “Everyone behaved impeccably,” Margaret says. A discreet police presence, provided to deal with possible intruders, proved unneces­sary. “It was all as Baby P’s father wanted.”

Margaret has taken the funerals of several more babies since then, and at first she did not connect the funeral last November with the horrific case that has dominated the headlines this month. Realisation dawned only when she remarked to the undertaker that Baby P’s funeral must have been a tricky one. “Well, you managed it OK,” he replied.

She is less than sanguine about the way in which the area of the crem­atorium garden where Baby P’s ashes are scattered, near those of his grand­parents, is now marked by a plaque paid for by a daily newspaper. It is being turned into a sort of secular shrine by people with no connection to the child or his family. It is crowded by mounds of withering flowers, soft toys, and cards bearing messages about “grief”, “horror”, and “love”.

A dedicated website carries similar messages, many of them mentioning angels, as well as appeals from at least two charities, and advertisements for pre-planned funerals and a family-history website.

After another child’s funeral last week, Margaret was interrupted while comforting the bereaved parents by a woman who demanded to know where Baby P’s grave was. “It’s the Diana syndrome on a small scale. People want a share in the action. They want to be able to say ‘I’ve been there.’ All Baby P’s father wanted was for his child to rest in peace, and I think he should have that.”

A dedicated website carries similar messages, many of them mentioning angels, as well as appeals from at least two charities, and advertisements for pre-planned funerals and a family-history website.

After another child’s funeral last week, Margaret was interrupted while comforting the bereaved parents by a woman who demanded to know where Baby P’s grave was. “It’s the Diana syndrome on a small scale. People want a share in the action. They want to be able to say ‘I’ve been there.’ All Baby P’s father wanted was for his child to rest in peace, and I think he should have that.”

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