Funeral directors 'should not be responsible' for policing mourner numbers

Undertakers should not be held responsible for turning away mourners to police coronavirus regulations, the head of a Scottish funerals business has warned.

Tim Purves, chairman of William Purves, said that funeral directors should not be forced to turn people away from a service after an undertaker was given a £10,000 fine by police when over 100 people turned up at a church in England.

Mr Purves, whose Edinburgh-based family business is Scotland’s largest independent funeral director, said that funeral directors would inform families of the guidance and help arrange routes for a hearse so that neighbours, family or colleagues could pay their respects from the side of the road without attending the service - but should not have to tell mourners that they have to leave.

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Last week, Hertfordshire Police handed out a £10,000 fine to a funeral director in Welwyn Garden City after the large funeral was reported to them by members of the public. Coronavirus rules in England mean a maximum of 30 people can attend a funeral. In Scotland, the number is just 20.

Funerals in Scotland are allowed only 20 mourners.Funerals in Scotland are allowed only 20 mourners.
Funerals in Scotland are allowed only 20 mourners.

Mr Purves said: “We are the event organisers, but we’re doing it on behalf of the family and have no control over who attends.

“It’s completely different to someone organising a rave.”

He said funeral directors need to take track and trace details for the 20 people designated to attend. However, he said that it was difficult to turn away people grieving a loved one.

He said: “The whole situation for us at the moment is very challenging. So much of our job is about the connection we have with families, which is hard now. It is very difficult to have conversations with mourners about who they are going to choose to have at the service. We tell them the rules as to how many people are allowed to attend, but the difficulty is that sometimes more than that number actually turn up.

Tim Purves is chairman of William Purves, Scotland’s largest independent funeral directors.Tim Purves is chairman of William Purves, Scotland’s largest independent funeral directors.
Tim Purves is chairman of William Purves, Scotland’s largest independent funeral directors.
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“It is particularly difficult outdoors at a cemetery, which is a public place. We do not have the power to go up to people and tell them to leave.”

He added: “What happened in Hertfordshire does concern us as it is an individual being charged for just doing his job.”

A statement from the National Association of Funeral Directors said: “Our guidance to funeral directors is to do everything in their power to make sure families understand and agree that there is a maximum number that can attend the funeral, to ensure the funeral adheres to Government guidance – and to notify the police and venue if they are in any way concerned. But they have absolutely no powers to prevent mourners from showing up or physically prevent them from entering a venue. This kind of heavy-handed approach by the police risks leaving funeral directors too scared to arrange funerals in case they are prosecuted.”

Police Scotland pointed to The Scottish government’s guidelines on funerals, which state: “Families and friends who have lost loved ones during this difficult time are respectfully asked to continue to adhere to all restrictions that are currently in place for funeral services.”

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