Widow’s hopes of being buried with late husband and daughter dashed by church red tape

Saint Andrews Church, Bacton: Picture: Colin Finch

Saint Andrews Church, Bacton: Picture: Colin Finch - Credit: Archant © 2004

A widow's hope of having the remains of her dead husband and daughter moved from a grave in a Warwickshire to Norfolk, where she now lives, have been dashed by Church of England red tape.

A judge has stuck to church rules that say unless there are exceptional circumstances a last resting place must be final.

Susan Hartlett had asked the Church's Consistory Court for permission to exhume the remains of her daughter, Sarah, who died the day after she was born in 1979, and her husband Robert, who died unexpectedly at the age of 50 in 2000, and rebury them at St Andrew's churchyard in Bacton.

In his role as judge of the court, the chancellor of the Diocese of Coventry, Stephen Eyre QC, said health problems meant Mrs Hartlett had not been able to visit the grave of her husband and daughter since 2016.

But despite the clergy at both churches giving their consent for the move, Judge Eyre ruled the circumstances were not sufficiently exceptional to grant her wishes.

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He said he accepted that Mrs Hartlett's health problems were "genuine and life-altering".

He said: "It is also clear that Mrs Hartlett is facing them as she has faced earlier tragedies with courage.

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"Those health difficulties mean that Mrs Hartlett is no longer able to travel from the north Norfolk coast to Warwickshire something which she had previously done every four to six weeks.

"Mrs Hartlett has not been able to visit the grave of her husband and daughter since July 2016."

But refusing her plea for the remains to be moved to a churchyard where she could visit them - and ultimately be buried with them - he said there was a "presumption of permanence in a Christian burial", adding that it would be possible when she dies for her remains to be buried in the grave at Bulkington.

He said: "It must always be exceptional for exhumation to be allowed and the Consistory Court must determine whether there are special circumstances justifying the taking of that exceptional course."

He said he did not wish to minimise her health concerns, but said: "They are not to be seen as exceptional and cannot be grounds for exhumation. It follows that the petition must be dismissed."

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