Ugly tales emerge from the crypt

The Gympie Times - - NEWS - – with Frank Chung Chris Honnery

FOR­MER fu­neral home em­ploy­ees have spo­ken out about the ugly prac­tices go­ing on be­hind closed doors in Queens­land’s fu­neral in­dus­try, fol­low­ing Thursday’s cof­fin-swap­ping al­le­ga­tions against Hart Fam­ily Funer­als.

A re­gional Queens­land fu­neral home worker, who wished to re­main anony­mous, told the Courier-Mail it was “part of the cul­ture” in the fu­neral in­dus­try to rip peo­ple off.

He said it was com­mon practice at his work­place of five years to re­move cof­fin han­dles be­fore cre­ma­tion and re-use them on a different cof­fin.

“They (han­dles) would cost fam­i­lies around $300 each and they would of­ten be re­moved from the cas­ket just be­fore cre­ma­tion to save money,” he said.

“If we had 400 funer­als a year, that would hap­pen 200 times. There’s more to this story than be­ing told. I wouldn’t be sur­prised if it’s hap­pen­ing all over the state.”

The man claimed his fu­neral home held a po­lice con­tract worth $70,000 a year and there had been rampant poor practice oc­cur­ring.

“I’m sure it hap­pens ev­ery­where,” he said. “It’s shock­ing that it’s gone on for this long. They’re tak­ing ad­van­tage of peo­ple at their most vul­ner­a­ble time.”

The au­thor of fu­neral ac­tion plan guide The Bot­tom Drawer Book, Lisa Her­bert, said Queens­land’s fu­neral in­dus­try was “a con­fus­ing mess”.

“Queens­land doesn’t have any stand­alone leg­is­la­tion gov­ern­ing burials and ceme­ter­ies and funer­als,” she said. “There’s a dozen Acts that make men­tion here and there of things re­lat­ing to funer­als.”

The fu­neral director ac­cused of switch­ing a grand­mother’s “gor­geous” $1700 cof­fin for a $70 pine box be­tween the fu­neral and cre­ma­tion has bro­ken his si­lence.

Rock­hamp­ton po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing Harts Fam­ily Funer­als after a fraud com­plaint from the fam­ily of lo­cal woman Jan­ice Ce­cilia Valigura.

Ms Valigura’s niece Kerry Roth­ery told The Rock­hamp­ton Morn­ing Bul­letin an or­nate cas­ket was car­ried out by Mrs Valigura’s grand­chil­dren from her re­quiem mass for trans­porta­tion to the cre­ma­to­rium.

She later saw her aunt had been wrapped in plastic in a cheap pine cof­fin at the cre­ma­to­rium, with per­sonal let­ters writ­ten by her grand­chil­dren and placed on her heart tossed in­side.

Ms Roth­ery claimed that the next day when they met fu­neral director Tony Hart, they were told the practice was “com­mon­place”.

Mr Hart has since told the Courier-Mail he per­formed the swap to pre­vent the ex­pen­sive cof­fin crack­ing in the cold, as a de­lay at the cre­ma­to­rium meant Mrs Valigura’s cof­fin had to be re­turned to the freezer.

“The cof­fin she was cre­mated in was the same one that the fam­ily bought,” he said.

He de­nied ever cre­mat­ing some­one in a different cof­fin to the one their fam­ily had paid for, or ever re-us­ing a cof­fin.

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