A council has been slammed for banning all mourners at funeral services despite government guidelines stating they should be allowed to attend.
City of York council has told grieving families they must wait outside the crematorium, while the ‘unattended cremation’ takes place with only a faith officiant allowed inside, before collecting their loved one’s ashes.
Only ten immediate family members are allowed to attend, including children, siblings and parents, and must observe social distancing by keeping at least two metres away from each other.
Government guidance states immediate family members should be allowed to attend funerals, but does not give a number.
City of York council has told grieving families they must stand outside York Crematorium with at least two metres between each other before collecting their loved one’s ashes
York Central MP Rachael Maskell has said the council had not followed government advice in its decision to ban families from attending funerals
A letter sent to the council by heartbroken resident Kelsey Dobson accuses it of causing ‘severe and detrimental’ damage to families.
‘To refuse wives, husbands, parents and children of the deceased the chance to say goodbye is a severe and detrimental decision that will create further trauma and long-lasting damage to the families that are already grieving a devastating loss,’ she wrote.
‘Nobody is asking for a full funeral. We’re simply asking that immediate family (Spouses, parents and children) can attend their loved one’s funeral, while adhering to social distancing rules,’
The family of Colin Dean, 61, who served in the army in Northern Ireland and Germany for more than 20 years, said all they want to do is give him ‘the final journey’.
His heartbroken widow, Marie, and children Louise and Barry, said: ‘We all have a huge hole in our hearts now that he is gone, and all we want to do is give him the final journey he truly deserves with his wife and children.
‘He was the very best husband and father we could have ever wished for. Whoever he came across he would never fail to leave an impression and lovely memories with his infectious personality; he was life and soul of the party.’
Mr Dean had not suffered from coronavirus. Up to 75 families have been affected by the change so far, which was brought in last Thursday, including those who have lost relatives to coronavirus.
Family of Colin Dean, 61, who served in the army for more than 20 years with postings to Northern Ireland and Germany, said they only wanted to give him a the final journey he ‘truly deserves’
York Central MP Rachael Maskell said the council had not followed government advice, which clearly states funerals should go ahead with social distancing and limiting mourners to close family members.
‘Over the last few days I have been talking to and corresponding with heartbroken constituents who have not only given incredible testimonies of their loved ones who have passed away, but have described the pain and distress caused in not being able to be with them in these very precious final moments,’ she said.
‘Services were cancelled from last Thursday, with just a day’s notice. People are completely distraught.
‘I have been liaising closely with ministers who are in agreement that City of York council have not followed this guidance.
‘One of the ministers had attended York Crematorium and could not understand why the council made this out to be an exceptional case.’
She claimed that the council had incorrectly stated their decision was supported by health leaders and that they were taking the same action as other local authorities.
A petition calling on the council to reverse its decision has so far gathered 3,914 signatures.
Kirklees, Bradford and Leeds councils have also told grieving families they must wait outside the crematorium before collecting their relatives ashes.
Government guidance states gatherings at funerals can continue providing they follow strict social distancing guidelines, says the National Association of Funeral Directors.
‘The government has made it clear that it wants bereaved people to still have the opportunity, and therefore gatherings at funerals can continue – but only if they take place within strict social distancing guidelines and through the limiting of numbers attending,’ they said.
‘Unlike any other life event, witnessing a funeral can’t be deferred and there is no opportunity to repeat it again in the future.
‘Therefore, being able to be there in person, even if as a much smaller group than the family would have wanted, remains an important choice that families must be free to make for as long as possible.’
A petition set up to reverse the council’s decision has attracted almost 4,000 signatures
The council suspended funeral services at York Crematorium last week and replaced them with so-called ‘unattended cremations’.
It had initially said mourners would not be allowed to stand outside the crematorium, before relenting on its decision.
They are allowing graveside burials at Fulford Cemetery to continue as planned providing families adhere to social distancing rules.
Cremation is the most popular form of burial in the UK, with burial being vastly more expensive and requiring families to purchase burial plots.
The leader of City of York council, Keith Aspden, said: ‘We know that the necessity of unattended cremation services will cause distress to many grieving people. The Council took the agonising decision extremely reluctantly, but it is a policy that will ultimately save lives.’
The council said that as the crematorium can hold up to 14 services a day, with up to ten or five people at each, this could mean more than 150 people enter and leave the building in one day.
‘It is vital that the number of people visiting the crematoria is kept to a minimum,’ they said, ‘in order to minimise the chances of spreading coronavirus’.
The council is due to review its decision later today. Ministers are due to issue further advice to all local authorities following the City of York’s decision.