A RETIRED lawyer, John Wright, is planning to bury his late mother in his back garden rather than pay what he described as the “outrageous” costs of a full funeral.
Mr Wright said that undertakers wanted £5300 for a church service and subsequent woodland burial for his mother Margaret, Lady Johnson, near their home at New Milton, in Hampshire. Mr Wright, aged 71, told the New Milton Advertiser that he intends to dig a four-foot-deep hole at his house, and possibly buy a large fridge to store Lady Johnson’s body in his garage, to avoid fees at the mortuary run by the funeral directors Hayley and Tapper.
”The price for a hearse to go to the chapel is £2500 alone,” he said. “I feel as if I am being blackmailed, harassed, and intimidated into paying these very high costs. This is just pure desperation. If a few days ago someone had told me I’d be doing this next week, I would have said they were mad.”
His mother, the widow of the former High Court judge Sir William Johnson, died in a nursing home earlier this month, aged 101, after suffering a stroke. There are no legal barriers to burying someone on private land, provided the landowner gives permission, and the coroner or registrar of birth and deaths grants a burial certificate.
The Environment Agency requires, however, that the grave must be at least ten metres from any dry ditch or field drain, 30 metres from any spring or any running or standing water, and 50 metres from any well, borehole, or spring that supplies water for any use. A gravestone requires planning permission, and future owners of the house could move the body — with permission from the Home Office —
or refuse relatives access. Also, the burial site must be recorded on the property’s deeds.
This week, the Rector of St Mary Magdalene’s, Milton, the Revd Andrew Bailey, said: “A funeral service could be held in any one of the three churches in this parish, and the fees that apply are the same in all of them: exactly the same as the Church of England table of fees; so a funeral in church is £178, with an additional £60 for the organist, which makes a total of £238. Some churches do add other fees for the verger, or heating and lighting, but we don’t.”
The manager of Hayley and Tapper, Julian Hayley, confirmed that they had estimated the costs at £5138. “We are rather saddened by all of this. I have looked at the quote, and everything is absolutely correct. He was given options to keep the cost down, but chose not to take them. There were lots or disbursements — flowers, death notice, church costs — on top of our costs; the cemetery fee alone is £1320.
“There’s a little bit more to saying it is £2500 just to take his mum to church — that involves all of the funeral directors’ facilities up to that point; it’s not just £2500 for a ride in a car. Unfortunately, he hasn’t come back to us. In the meantime, his mum stays in our chapel of rest until he decides what to do. I can’t do anything else, because he has not instructed me to do anything else.”