Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Council apologises for burial blunder

Henley Town Council by-election confirmed

A FAMILY have been told they cannot exhume the body of a man buried in the wrong plot following a series of blunders by Henley Town Council.

Alexis Leventis petitioned the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Oxford to remove the body of Victor Miller from its final resting place at Fairmile Cemetery after he was buried in error in a plot exclusively reserved for himself.

He was refused permission by Chancellor, the Reverend Alexander McGregor, but the town council has taken full responsibility for the failings, giving an “unreserved apology", and will have to pay full costs.

Mr Leventis acquired an exclusive right of burial for plot number 172, which was to be for his own burial.

His father Constandinos was buried in plot 192, in the consecrated part of the cemetery, in February 2012, after his widow Christine Leventis acquired from the town council an exclusive right of burial.

Members of the Leventis family subsequently acquired grants of exclusive rights of burial in three adjacent plots.

But the problems began in April 2013 when the body of John Summersby, as a result of an error, was buried in plot 171. Mr Summersby, in fact, had an exclusive right of burial in plot 170. The location of his burial was not correctly noted in the cemetery records and the error remained unknown for some two years.

Victor Miller died on March 25, 2015. On April 2 of that year his son in law Justin Morley applied for and was granted an exclusive right of burial in the consecrated part of the cemetery in what was stated in the application to be plot 171.

On April 13 the body of Mr Miller was buried – at double depth so as to accommodate the body of his widow, Linda Miller, in due course.

But, following the earlier, but as yet unidentified error in relation to the burial of Mr Summersby, a further error was made by those responsible for the management of the cemetery so that the body of Mr Miller was buried in plot 172 – the plot reserved by Alexis Leventis.

Mr Leventis petitioned the court to exhume the body of Mr Miller, but Rev McGregor ruled against this.

In his judgment he concluded: “The exhumation of his (Mr Miller’s) body would cause serious distress to his widow and other members of his family. The wishes of the late Mr Leventis, while they cannot be satisfied in the terms in which he expressed them, can be approximately satisfied by the acquisition by the Leventis family of alternative plots which would enable them to be buried together in a different configuration.

“While a decision not to grant a faculty would prevent Mr Leventis directly enforcing the exclusive right of burial he had properly acquired from the town council … to grant a faculty in this case would, in my view, not be justified as an exception from the law and doctrine as to the permanence of Christian burial.

“While the mistaken burial of Mr Miller’s body in plot number 172 – together with a desire to fulfil the late Mr Leventis’s’ wishes – is capable of constituting a special circumstance which might overcome that presumption of permanence, taking into account the other relevant factors of this case the petitioner has not discharged the burden that lies on him.

“The existence of that special circumstance is outweighed by the desire of the Miller family, following substantial undue delay in addressing the mistake which reasonably resulted in their believing that Mr Miller’s place of burial was not to be contested, to uphold the permanence of his place of burial.

“In the present case the town council have accepted responsibility for the errors which resulted in this state of affairs. They have given an unreserved apology to all concerned. They have said they will make such vacant plots as there are available to the Leventis family in any configuration they wish. Although they were clearly at fault in the events that resulted in Mr Miller’s body being buried in plot number 172, they are doing all that they reasonably can to make amends now.

“The town council has accepted that it should pay the court costs and the costs (including the legal costs) of the other parties.

“The order will therefore be that the petition is dismissed and that the town council pay the court costs and the other parties’ own costs incurred in connection with the proceedings. The registrar will notify the town council of the court costs which will then be payable forthwith. The costs of the parties are to be assessed by the registrar unless agreed within two months of the date of this judgment.”

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