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Green light for Leicester burial for Richard III

23 May 2014


LEICESTER Cathedral has effectively been given the green light to press on with its £1-million plans for the reburial of the bones of Richard III in a specially created tomb in its chancel.

On Friday, three High Court judges rejected a legal challenge by distant relatives of the King who had wanted his remains interred in York Minster, the centre of his medieval power-base.

The Plantagenet Alliance had claimed that the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, had failed to consult properly when he granted permission to archaeologists to search for Richard's grave under a Leicester city-centre park, and then for his reburial in Leicester Cathedral (News, 21 March).

But Lady Justice Hallett, sitting in the Divisional Court with Mr Justice Ouseley and Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, ruled that there were no public law grounds for interfering with the decision.

The judgement was welcomed by the Dean of Leicester, the Very Revd David Monteith. "The delays are over," he said. "The law is clear, and unequivocally set forth in today's judgement. Richard III fought here, fell here, died here, has lain here, and was rediscovered here. He will now be finally laid to rest with the prayers of God's people in a manner fitting to his story, and with dignity, as befits a child of God and an anointed King of England.

"I want to say to everyone, whatever viewpoint you take, that everyone is welcome here. Bosworth was a bitter battle, with different branches of the same family at war. Five hundred years on, we can learn a little, and my prayer is that we might travel now, together, to finally lay King Richard to rest."

In their 40-page judgment, the three judges said: "Issues relating to his life and death and place of re-interment have been exhaustively examined and debated. We agree that it is time for Richard III to be given a dignified reburial, and finally laid to rest."

Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, ending the Wars of the Roses and the Plantagenet dynasty. His body was taken to Leicester by supporters of the victorious Henry VII, and buried in Greyfriars church, now the site of the council car-park.

He body was exhumed on 5 September 2012, and the judges observed that, since then, "passions have been roused, and much ink has been spilt. . .

"This case undoubtedly has unique and exceptional features which arguably call for special consideration. It is why the claim has reached this court. The archaeological discovery of the mortal remains of a king of England after 500 years may fairly be described as 'unprecedented'.

"The discovery touches on Sovereign, State, and the Church. To the extent that these unique features call for special consideration, it may well be that the decision-maker is required by law to ascertain, at least, the views of Sovereign, State, and the Church.

"In our view, however, at all material times in this case the Secretary of State was sufficiently aware of the views of Sovereign, State, and the Church to be able to make an informed decision."

A suggestion that Richard III was to have endowed a chancery at York with 100 chaplains "falls short of any definitive or overriding expression of where he wished to be buried."

The judges also rejected a suggestion that the Secretary of State's refusal to revisit the licence decision after the discovery of the bones was irrational. "He would have been aware of the rival historical, geographical, and tribal arguments; the variety of competing claims to entitlement; and the importance of the issue for local pride, tourism, and standing.

"Much of this was, or would have been, predictable. It is difficult to see what more the Secretary of State needed, save perhaps for some flesh on the bones of the rival arguments.

"The fact that some sort of consultation, or further inquiries, might have been possible or desirable, does not mean that no reasonable or rational decision-maker could have been satisfied on the basis of the information already to hand."

They continued: "In truth, the 'public' consultation regarded by the claimant is entirely open-ended, and not capable of sensible limit or specificity, in the context of potentially millions of collateral descendants of Richard III." To devise such a complex consultation would probably require legislation, they said.

"There is no sensible basis for imposing a requirement for a general public consultation, with leaflets, online petitions, publicity campaigns, nor for advertisements trying to ascertain who is a relative, and then weighing their views against the general public, when there are, in reality, only two possible contenders - Leicester and York - and the rival arguments are clear, and known to the decision-maker."

Mr Grayling angrily condemned the Alliance legal action, saying that he was "frustrated and angry that the Plantagenet Alliance - a group with tenuous claims to being relatives of Richard III - have taken up so much time and public money.

He said: "I have been very clear from the start that the decision to grant an exhumation licence for Richard III was taken correctly, and in line with the law.

"This case, brought by a 'shell' company set up by the Alliance to avoid paying legal costs, is an example of exactly why the Government is bringing forward a package of reforms to the judicial review process."

There was applause at Leicester Cathedral as the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, read out the result at 10 a.m. to a crowd of supporters and media. "We are, of course, delighted," he said. "Here in the cathedral, in the diocese, in the city, in the county, we've waited a long time for this."

The deputy chair of the Richard III Society, Wendy Moorhen, said: "This judgment will be a disappointment to some - particularly the Plantagenet Alliance and their supporters - and we acknowledge the sincerity of their case.

"However, we hope that now a clear ruling has been given, we can all focus on ensuring that King Richard III receives an honourable and dignified reburial. Consideration should also now be given to the need for his remains to be removed to an appropriate place of sanctity before their final reinterment.

"Further arguments over the location of the King's final resting-place can only be counter-productive to the solemnity of the reburial, and will not help efforts to secure a reassessment of his life and character."

The leader of Leicestershire County Council, Nick Rushton, said: "I'm glad the waiting is over and the issue is finally settled. It has been a very undignified time; as you must remember, this is the body of a man - and a king of England. He deserves to be buried with dignity and honour in Leicester Cathedral."

In a statement, the Plantagenet Alliance said that it was "naturally disappointed" at the decision: "This was a case that had unique and exceptional features, and which, in the words of the judgment, arguably called for special consideration, which is why it reached the court.

"Unfortunately, the court did not agree with our assertion that, because of its exceptional nature, there was a legal requirement which should have forced such special consideration.

"We obviously respect the judgment, but are disappointed for the thousands of people who, like us, felt that they have not had the opportunity to have their legitimately held views heard and considered as to the appropriate venue for the interment of King Richard III."

The Alliance declined to make any further comment until after full consideration of the judgment.


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