THE Consistory Court of the diocese of Chester refused a petition for a faculty to exhume the remains of a stillborn baby which were interred 28 years ago. Owing to the personal and sensitive nature of the case, and to reduce the distress that might be caused to those concerned, the names of the parties were anonymised.
The petition was brought by Mrs AB, the mother of D, a stillborn boy who died at 38 weeks on 12 June 1991. His remains are interred in an oak coffin in a numbered plot in the consecrated section of Landican cemetery, operated by Wirral Borough Council. There is no formal memorial on the grave to commemorate D. The plot is an eight-foot grave that the cemetery authorities say could normally be expected to accommodate up to three adult burials.
All formal arrangements for the burial were made by Mr JK, who was Mrs AB’s partner at the time of D’s birth, and says that he is D’s natural father. He owns the grave, and has visited it regularly over the years.
Mr JK and Mrs AB also have a son born in 1990, and two further sons born in 1992 and 1996. They never married, and they separated in 1997. Both are now married to other partners, with whom they have children.
Mrs AB seeks to exhume D’s remains, to have them cremated, and then to place the cremated remains in a designated rose-garden area at the cemetery where the remains of her own mother and of her brother have been placed. D’s name would then be entered in the book of remembrance in the cemetery.
Mr JK strongly opposes the exhumation, considering it unnecessary, distasteful, and inappropriate. Mrs AB now says that Mr JK is not D’s natural father, that D’s natural father was an individual whose surname and whereabouts are unknown to her, and with whom she had a brief relationship when she and Mr JK were separated for a short time.
The Chancellor, Judge David Turner QC, said that any attempt formally to determine paternity was beyond the scope of the proceedings in the Consistory Court. He said, however, that he found Mrs AB’s account of the separation, the affair with an unnamed individual, and the subsequent years of family life with the birth of two further sons unconvincing, and, even if Mr JK was not the father, his continued visiting of the grave for approaching 28 years and the intensity of those visits was “perplexing”.
The Chancellor concluded that exhumation was unnecessary. Too much time had elapsed, and this was not a case in which the presumption of the permanence of Christian burial had been displaced. D had been laid to rest with Mrs AB and Mr JK both present, and each of them was “now free to honour D’s memory in their hearts and minds, as they wish”.
The grave itself was owned by Mr JK, but he had indicated an unequivocal readiness to place it in joint names, and he had no plans to add any other remains there at any time. In the past, Mrs AB had rejected an agreement of that kind, but the Chancellor urged her to reconsider and also to seek to negotiate a mutually acceptable memorial to D.