THE Consistory Court of the diocese of Southwark has granted permission for the exhumation of remains so that DNA could be obtained in order to ascertain whether the deceased person was the father of two young women, so that they could claim an award of compensation made to him in Ireland.
The deceased, Michael McGrory, was born in April 1973, and between the ages of three and ten years he had been in an orphanage in Co. Donegal. Subsequently, he had mental-health problems, and he took his own life in January 2009. He was buried in a consecrated plot in London Road Cemetery, Mitcham, where his brother’s remains had been interred in 2008.
In the 1980s and ’90s there had emerged several cases of abuse in orphanages and similar institutions in the Republic of Ireland. The state established a compensation scheme under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002, and the scheme was administered by the Residential Institutions Redress Board.
The deceased had claimed compensation under the Act, and, after his death, his partner, Joanne Penfold, continued the claim. In September 2009, the Board awarded the deceased €80,530 in respect of abuse he had suffered at the orphanage. Ms Penfold was not entitled to the money, but she believed that the deceased had had two children, although she did not know much about their identity or whereabouts.
A solicitor, Eileen McMahon, who was acting on behalf of the deceased, was able to make contact with Michaela and Kathleen Mulhern, who believed that the deceased was their father. They had lost contact with him in 2007, however, and his name did not appear on their birth certificates.
They and Ms McMahon applied to the Consistory Court for exhumation of the deceased’s body so that DNA could be obtained to prove paternity. The application was opposed by Bernadette McGrory and Richard McGrory, who are the sister and brother of the deceased.
Miss McGrory’s DNA had been compared with that of Michaela and Kathleen Mulhern, but the results were not conclusive. Ms Penfold retained some of the deceased’s clothing, but it had not been possible to isolate any DNA from it.
Ms McMahon pointed out to the Consistory Court that the application was made only after orders made in the Irish courts, on the basis that exhumation to permit DNA testing was appropriate, and that the petition was being made only in circumstances where there were no other sources of the deceased’s DNA.
Michaela and Kathleen said that their position was not about money. They were sure that the deceased was their father, and they wanted it to be proved.
Desmond Murphy QC, who appeared on behalf of Bernadette and Richard McGrory, accepted that determining an entitlement to an inheritance could provide exceptional circumstances justifying exhumation, but he said that it was not sufficient simply to assert that the exhumation was necessary to determine an inheritance. He argued that there was no evidence to show that Michaela and Kathleen were the deceased’s daughters.
Chancellor Philip Petchey said that a proper basis existed for permitting exhumation, and that it was “completely understandable” that Michaela and Kathleen wanted to know if the deceased was their father. Doubts about their paternity having been raised, there would have to be strong reasons for refusing to permit exhumation in circumstances where DNA testing, which exhumation would facilitate, would be likely to resolve those doubts. Bernadette and Richard McGrory believed that Michaela and Kathleen were not the daughters of their late brother, and, if they were correct, DNA testing would demonstrate that.
The Chancellor added that the present case had “a certain resonance,” since it came shortly after DNA testing revealed the identity of the biological father of the current Archbishop of Canterbury. Michaela and Kathleen believed that the deceased was their father, and hoped that that could be proved. However important it was to know the about one’s true parentage, the Archbishop had emphasised in his case that, at the most profound level, nothing had changed: he found himself in Jesus Christ and not in genetics.
Whatever Michaela and Kathleen might believe, the Chancellor said that the Church believed that they were ultimately important for what they were in themselves, not because of their human parentage, and he hoped that they would come to feel that, whatever the outcome of the DNA testing.