THE Consistory Court of the diocese of Southwark granted a faculty for the exhumation of cremated remains from a consecrated plot in the South London Crematorium, after the family had organised the interment thinking that there would be no difficulty in the subsequent exhumation of the remains.
Georgina Finch, the wife of Roy Finch, died in March 1993, and had expressed the wish to be cremated, and, in due time, for her ashes to be joined with the remains of her husband. Her husband and family chose South London Crematorium because that enabled the funeral service to take place on a Saturday, whereas most crematoria were closed on Saturdays.
They also took up the option of having her cremated remains interred in the Garden of Remembrance, intending that that would be a temporary measure until her husband’s death, when arrangements would be made for their remains to be reunited. The family were not informed that the Garden of Remembrance was consecrated, and that permission for exhumation from consecrated ground was granted only exceptionally, owing to the presumption that Christian burial was permanent.
Roy Finch died in July 2017, having made it clear that he wanted his remains to be buried with a casket containing his wife’s remains placed in his coffin. The family arranged for the remains to be buried in Epsom Cemetery, not in consecrated ground, but in a section that had been blessed by ministers of churches not in communion with the Church of England.
His daughter, Lynda Hopwood, then discovered for the first time that permission for the exhumation of her mother’s remains would not be issued as a matter of course, as she had assumed. She told the Consistory Court that, in retrospect, “it would have been much more sensible” to have kept her mother’s ashes at home, “but somehow it did not seem respectful enough; and in an emotionally charged state” they “did not realise the enormous consequences” of using the Garden of Remembrance, and “no one at the crematorium had explained it.”
The Chancellor, Philip Petchey, said that, in those circumstances, it seemed that a mistake had been made such that it would be appropriate to permit exhumation as an exception to the norm of the permanence of Christian burial, and it was not required that Mrs Finch’s ashes should be reinterred in consecrated ground.