Crematorium disputes funeral director's claim body swapped into cheaper coffin due to cremation delay

Crematorium disputes funeral director's claim body swapped into cheaper coffin due to cremation delay

Crematorium disputes funeral director's claim body swapped into cheaper coffin due to cremation delay

Updated 13 January 2018, 0:55 AEDT

A Rockhampton crematorium owner disputes the story of a funeral director at the centre of a coffin-swapping controversy, saying there was "no delay at the crematorium" and the central Queensland grandmother's body arrived in the cheaper coffin.

A Rockhampton crematorium owner has disputed the story of a funeral director at the centre of a coffin-swapping controversy, saying there was "no delay at the crematorium".

Funeral director Tony Hart has said the body of 74-year-old grandmother Janice Valigura was temporarily placed in a cheaper casket because of a delay in her cremation, which meant her body had to be placed in a freezer.

The distraught family of Mrs Valigura are concerned that she could have been taken out of the silky oak coffin they had purchased and cremated in a pine box instead.

Her family claims one of the people mourning the death of Mrs Valigura, whose funeral was held on Monday, noticed her coffin appeared to have been swapped for a cheaper pine box at the crematorium.

Mr Hart said Mrs Valigura's remains were temporarily put in a "transfer shell" box to prevent the lacquered, more expensive casket from cracking due to a change of temperature.

He said Mrs Valigura's body was cremated in the casket her family had paid for.

Mr Hart has said he would release a statement later on Friday.

However, Rockhampton crematorium owner Jenny McBean disputes Mr Hart's story.

Ms McBean said there was "no delay at the crematorium" on Monday, and that the body arrived late for its scheduled cremation in the cheaper coffin.

"Coffins are held in the cold room quite often — I have never in my nine years … seen a coffin split," Ms McBean said.

"I am upset, very upset for what's happened to this family, and he seems to be putting the blame on us.

"It's just devastating — I just don't want this to happen to anybody else again."

She said Mr Hart "should look for another career".

Ms McBean called for more regulation to the funeral industry in Queensland.

"It appears that anybody can start up a funeral business," she said.

Family not convinced by explanation

Ms Valigura's son Paul said he did not believe Mr Hart's story.

He said the family had asked for the cremation to be delayed once they had heard the coffin had been switched, and they decided to investigate further.

"When we first heard about it, we were in a bit of shock. We didn't really know what to say or do," Mr Valigura said.

"What right has he got to go and remove Mum out of her original coffin that we purchased, that had been blessed?

"We feel just totally ripped off.

"I don't think Mum would have been feeling too well that this happened to her. She would be just totally disappointed that this happened to her."

Mrs Valigura's family have complained to police about the matter and officers visited the funeral home on Thursday as part of their investigation.

Officers labelled the family's allegation "shocking" and said police were taking it seriously.

'Swapping coffins is unethical': industry body

The president of the Queensland Funeral Directors Association Anton Brown said Mr Hart's explanation was not a valid reason for the coffin switch.

"Swapping coffins is unethical," Mr Brown said.

"You hear of people being disappointed with what's happened, but not as serious as this," he said.

Mr Brown has called on the Queensland Government to introduce compulsory licensing measures for funeral homes.

The Australian Funeral Directors Association is also supporting the move to introduce regulation and bring the industry in line with other states.

"This is what we're trying to stamp out as an association," Mr Brown said.

"We've been to governments, tried to have meetings and it falls on deaf ears.

People who decide to start a business have to abide by a list of legal standards, including Australian Consumer Law and workplace health and safety, but the process of opening shop is much less difficult than in other states and territories.

"People are licensed for plumbing, building, electricians, I think funeral directing should also be licensed," Mr Brown said.

"I think it could well go towards preventing this happening. I don't say it'll stop it, but it'd have some teeth in stopping it."