The findings of an investigation show that the two families, who are unnamed in the report, were caused unnecessary stress and anxiety after finding that they may have been keeping someone else’s ashes.
HM Inspector of Crematoria were called after two funerals which took place in August 2018.
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The mix-up resulted in Fife Council issuing an apology to the families involved, and the local authority has acknowledged that the standard of service “fell well below the standard that we expect”.
Each family took home the ashes in a cardboard casket labelled with their loved ones’ name and held them for a period of time.
One family later opened the casket and were shocked to find a polythene bag of ashes labelled with a different name entirely.
Contact was made with the other family and after opening their casket they too found that they had the wrong name inside. One of the families told the inspector that it “devastated our entire family and raised the obvious questions of where were the correct remains, and what had gone wrong that allowed this to occur.
“It was heart wrenching to know that we have retained someone else’s loved one for so long without their knowledge yet at the same time believing we had possession of our own loved one.
“That particular evening events promoted lack of sleep and phases of anxiety not knowing what had happened to (their) remains, were they scattered? Were they buried? Would we ever get them back?”
The inspector’s findings stated: “The investigation carried out by the inspector established that on the balance of probability both families had indeed received the wrong ashes from their respective funeral directors, but fortunately both sets of ashes were exchanged then retained and not dispersed pending the outcome of the investigation.
“In addition to the technician having either placed the correctly-labelled ashes into the wrong casket, or wrongly labelling the casket after the ashes had been inserted, there were a number of other failings and missed opportunities which could and should have detected the discrepancies, and prevented both families from such an ordeal.”
The report added: “The Inspector has been given an assurance by the Cremation Authority and both of the funeral directors involved that these checks will be carried out with immediate effect on every occasion in the future.”
Alan Paul, Fife Council’s senior manager in charge of bereavement services, said: “I have already apologised to both families for what must have been a very stressful situation at a time when they were already grieving.
“Our service in this case fell well below the standard that we expect and we have already taken on board the recommendations made by the inspector.
“I’d also like to give an assurance that both our crematoria in Fife operate to a high standard and experienced staff work to quality standards based on legislation and national guidance.”
One of the concerns raised in the report was about low staffing levels at the crematorium. Recommendations were also made in the report to review the cremation process, along with ensuring better checks were carried out.
The Inspector of Crematoria also called on the Inspector of Funeral Directors to note the failings of the funeral directors to also check the remains were the correct ones.
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