A Government minister has instructed City of York Council that it cannot deny people the right to attend the funeral services of their close family members, Rachael Maskell said today (Saturday).
The York Central MP says Paymaster General Penny Mordant will be issuing “a very strong rebuttal” to the actions taken by the council.
The authority has stopped funeral services at York Crematorium, and is preventing loved ones from attending. Yesterday the council relaxed its rules slightly, allowing brief ‘celebrant-led ceremonies in chapels of rest before the cremation’ – but mourners, including close family members, are still banned.
Ms Maskell has also spoken to leaders at Public Health England who stressed that their guidance published on 31 March 2020 should enable funerals to go ahead. Public Health England have confirmed that the conduct of City of York Council can be reported to the Ombudsman.
Rachael Maskell said: “City of York Council have not only been breaking hearts but also breaking the law.
“The Government guidance, drawn up by Public Health England was very clear that funerals should proceed, but the right precautions must also be put in place by limiting the attendance to close family members and ensuring that social distancing is put in place.
“Proper care of crematorium staff must also occur.”
‘Incensed’ at the decision
Ms Maskell said one constituent described the ruling as causing far more distress than the actual death, while others said the pain of not being able to honour their lives with a simple service will never leave them.
I have been deeply moved by my constituents and have worked day and night to get this decision overturned.
It is clear that the council have acted without authority and following the Government’s instructions.
At a time when City of York Council are still not instituting strict social distancing measures for their staff working in a number of areas, risking us all, I am incensed that they felt they had a right to cause such grief to families at their most vulnerable time.
Rachael Maskell MP has asked City of York Council to:
- immediately withdraw from withholding attendance at crematorium services
- apologise to those families who have had to suffer the severe grief of being barred from attending the services of their families
- contact all families who have been told that they cannot attend a future service
- set out how families who were barred from attending the funeral of their close relative will be compensated.
A petition calling for the restrictions to be overturned has been signed by more than 3,300 people.
The Public Health England Guidance to the Government and Local Authorities states:
Coronavirus (COVID-19) is an infectious disease and can be transmitted when large groups of people congregate. However, with certain precautions funerals should continue to take place.
To help reduce the risk of spreading the infection, funeral directors and faith leaders are advised to restrict the number of mourners who attend funerals, so a safe distance of at least 2 metres (3 steps) can be maintained between individuals. Only members of the deceased person’s household or close family members should attend funerals. Any individual displaying symptoms of COVID-19 should not attend. Those who do attend will need to adhere to social distancing at all times, including when travelling to and from the funeral.
In addition, the guidance advises that since there is a small but real risk of transmission from the body of a deceased person, mourners are strongly advised not to take part in any rituals or practices that bring them into close contact with the body of a person who has died from or with symptoms of COVID-19. Practices that involve close personal contact with the deceased should only be carried out using the correct personal protective equipment (PPE).
Professor Paul Cosford CB, Emeritus Medical Director, Public Health England, said:
“Losing a loved one is a sad and distressing experience and funerals are important and personal. During this very difficult time for the country, our aim is to protect the most vulnerable from the spread of coronavirus. We are encouraging all mourners to practise social distancing at funerals for the time being. This sadly means limiting the number of mourners to immediate households and closest family members.”
Source: Rachael Maskell MP