THE Consistory Court of the diocese of Coventry granted a faculty for the reservation of a grave space in the churchyard of St Peter ad Vincula, Hampton Lucy, despite the objections of two parishioners.
Stanley and Sandra Cooper petitioned for the faculty to reserve for themselves a grave space adjoining the plot in which their only son, James, was buried. James was murdered in April 2011, three days after his 25th birthday, and was buried in the churchyard of St Peter’s.
The Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Andrew Larkin, supported the petition of Mr and Mrs Cooper, but there were letters of objection from Chris Robinson, a former churchwarden and treasurer of St Peter’s, and from Mrs G. Spellar, who assisted in keeping the churchyard tidy.
Mr Robinson wrote of the need to apply Churchyard Regulations “to all without exception”. He expressed the fear that the grant of the faculty could trigger several applications for such faculties “which, if successful, would see the space in this very small churchyard pre-allocated to the disadvantage of others”. Mr Robinson said that to grant the faculty would be to give Mr and Mrs Cooper a “dispensation”.
Mrs Spellar’s objection was that the effect of the proposed reservation would adversely affect the appearance of the churchyard, since there would be a gap in what would otherwise be a continuous row of graves. Besides being unsightly, such a gap, she said, would hinder the proper maintenance of the churchyard.
Mr and Mrs Cooper responded to the objections by pointing out in powerful terms the depth of their grief at the untimely loss of their only son, and explained that knowing that they would be buried alongside him would provide them with a modest degree of comfort.
The Coventry Churchyard Regulations, which came into force in November 2019, provide that no grave space may be reserved without a faculty, and that it is open to a PCC to adopt a policy of not supporting the reservation of grave spaces in its churchyard, but that such a policy is not binding on a Chancellor, and an application for a faculty to reserve a grave space in such a churchyard will be decided on its merits.
The Diocesan Chancellor, the Worshipful Stephen Eyre QC, said that there was no parochial policy against the reservation of grave spaces in this churchyard, and that there was sufficient space to meet the needs of those wishing to be buried there for the next 30 years.
The court’s discretion would normally be exercised in favour of reservation, where a faculty was sought by parishioners who had a right of burial in the churchyard and there was no substantial risk to the right of other parishioners, the Chancellor said.
Mr and Mrs Cooper were parishioners who had been resident in the parish for 14 years. They were in their late sixties, and there was enough space in the churchyard for the next 30 years. They had a powerful reason for wishing to be buried in a particular plot. Those considerations all pointed to the grant of the faculty.
Little weight could be attached to the arguments put forward by Mr Robinson, since they appeared to be based on misunderstandings concerning the Churchyard Regulations. The practical and aesthetic concerns raised by Mrs Spellar also carried little weight. Any aesthetic effect, and the extent to which the reservation would hinder the maintenance of the churchyard, would be modest, the Chancellor decided.
Moreover, it was apparent that, to the extent that the incumbent and the PCC had any concerns in those regards, such concerns did not prevent their expressing support for Mr and Mrs Cooper’s petition. That was a significant factor, given that the responsibility for the maintenance and appearance of the churchyard lay with the incumbent and the PCC.
In those circumstances, the Chancellor ruled, the objections could not prevail against the powerful considerations in favour of the grant of the faculty sought by Mr and Mrs Cooper.