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Chancellor grants exhumation after family feud

19 May 2017


Centre of dispute: the churchyard at St Mary’s, Polestead

Centre of dispute: the churchyard at St Mary’s, Polestead

THE consistory court of the diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich settled a family feud when it granted the petition of some members of the family for permission to exhume the cremated remains of one member of the family from the grave where both her parents were buried, in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Polstead.

The late Joyce King was the daughter of William and Mary Haynes, who also had another daughter, Evelyn Julier. William Haynes died in 1982. Mary had predeceased him, and he was buried in the same burial plot at St Mary’s churchyard.

In May 2016, Gloria Worman and Angela Munns, the two daughters of Joyce King, contacted the administrator of the parish about the possibility of burying their mother’s ashes in their grandparents’ grave. At the time, the benefice was in a state of interregnum, and no proper analysis was made about whom should be consulted. On 30 September 2016, a casket containing King’s cremated remains were buried in the burial plot of Mary and William Haynes.

On 24 October 2016, Ms Julier and two of the grandsons of William and Mary Haynes, Robert Michael Haynes and David Edward Julier, petitioned the Consistory Court for permission to exhume King’s remains.

The Chancellor, David Etherington QC, said that the court had no intention of acting as a referee in a family rift. There were issues about whether Ms Worman had acted improperly by applying to have her mother’s remains interred in her grandparents’ plot, and whether she behaved improperly by proceeding with the interment when she knew that there was objection; and whether Robert Haynes had behaved inconsistently in opposing King’s interment in his grandparents’ plot. There were also issues about what the clergy should have done in that situation.

Neither side of the family produced any written evidence whether either William or Mary Haynes reserved or “purchased” the plot. The issue of who cared for the plot and provided the memorial was not of particular assistance, the Chancellor said. Both sides of the family had their versions of that, and neither had much bearing on whether the plot was to be open to other family members.

The Chancellor said that Ms Worman did not act improperly by applying to have her mother’s remains interred in her grandparents’ plot, and her application through the church authorities was the proper course, initially. But she was unwise not to inform her aunt, Ms Julier. All parties were aware of Robert Haynes’s objections, which should have alerted the clergy to make proper inquiries.

The law on exhumation was clear, the Chancellor said: Christian burial in consecrated ground was final. In certain rare cases, exhumation could be permitted as an exception, one such exception being that an important mistake had been made in interring the body in the particular consecrated location, and that the mistake had been raised speedily following discovery.

No interment of King should have taken place in the plot containing the remains of William and Mary Haynes without a faculty, the Chancellor said, and he had no doubt that, if a faculty had been applied for, he would have refused it.

The petition succeeded, and a faculty was granted for exhumation. King’s remains were to be reverently and respectfully removed from the ground within 56 days of the faculty, and kept safely and privately within the church. Her daughters live in Canada, and, if they wish their mother’s ashes to be taken to Canada, then a licence of the Ministry of Justice will have to be sought.

The Chancellor also said that he was of the provisional view that the petitioners for exhumation should not have to bear any of the costs of bringing the proceedings.

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