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Ashes in ‘wrong’ plot to be exhumed  

19 February 2016


Site entrance: Old Woolwich cemetery, on King's Highway, south-east London

Site entrance: Old Woolwich cemetery, on King's Highway, south-east London

THE exhumation of a deceased couple’s ashes, buried in August 2015 in consecrated ground, but by mistake in a plot reserved for someone different, and their reinterment in other consecrated ground, has been approved by the Consistory Court of the diocese of Southwark. It has been delayed for a year, however, out of respect for the non-Christian belief of the deceased couple’s grandson.

Cuong Tan Hoang had petitioned for a faculty for the exhumation of the cremated remains of his grandparents, Khoan Xieng Hoang and Che Liu Man, from a plot in the consecrated part of Woolwich cemetery, and to permit their reinterment in a plot near by, also in the consecrated part of the cemetery.

Although Mr Hoang’s grandparents died in 1979 and 1986 respectively, and were cremated, their remains were not interred in the ground until October 2015. Due to a mistake by one of the cemetery staff, the interment did not take place in the plot bought by Mr Hoang, but in a plot near by, which had been bought in 1984 by Cornelius Mordey. That plot was next to the plot where his late parents’ remains were interred, and Mr Mordey’s intention was and is that his remains should be interred there in due course.

This was a classic “mistake” case, and all were agreed that the exhumation of Mr Hoang’s grandparents’ remains should take place. Mr Hoang regarded it as unpropitious, however, to exhume his grandparents’ remains until a year had passed.

Chancellor Philip Petchey said that that was no part of Christian belief, but it was a matter which was entitled to respect. As a matter of law, Mr Hoang’s belief and its manifestation were protected under the Human Rights Act 1998.

Consequently, if Mr Mordey were to die in the course of the next year, his representatives might not be able to exercise the right of burial which he purchased in 1984. The Chancellor said that there was nothing the court could do about that.

The cemetery manager indicated to the Chancellor that Mr Hoang understood Mr Mordey’s concerns, and wished to have the situation speedily resolved. The Chancellor said that Mr Hoang should look carefully at the situation, and try to identify an early date on which the exhumations might be carried out.

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