Jewish group threatens to take north London coroner to court in row over priority for religious burials

PUBLISHED: 12:00 30 December 2017

Mary Hassell has been senior coroner for north London since 2013

Mary Hassell has been senior coroner for north London since 2013


A religious group is threatening to take the north London coroner to court in a row about prioritising Jewish and Muslim burials.

Stamford Hill’s Adath Ysroel Synagogue and Burial Society says it will lodge a judicial review against inner north London senior coroner Mary Hassell’s decision last month to withdraw a special arrangement struck three years ago.

Ms Hassell agreed in January 2015 that most Jewish people who die at home in north London could be immediately sent to the Carmel Funeral Home in Stamford Hill instead of going to a public mortuary as is standard. The rule was brought in because Jewish and Islamic religious laws mean a body should be buried as soon as possible after death, while Jewish custom means a body should be watched over at all times until it is buried.

But the arrangement was cancelled in October after a row broke out about delays dealing with a man who had died of natural causes.

Ms Hassell claimed the society made persistent requests to one of her officers for a post mortem to be carried out the next working day, but that staffing issues meant this could not happen.

Adath Ysroel did not respond to allegations it had left the coroner’s officer feeling “persecuted” with its repeated phone calls and e-mails, or that she had ended up delaying other important work so she could deal with the man’s case despite the staff shortage.

The argument is even more fraught because, in Jewish custom, grieving cannot begin until a body has been buried. Campaigners are now saying Ms Hassell’s actions are stopping families mourning properly.

Stamford Hill Rabbi Avrohom Pinter, a member of the London Jewish Forum, said his community was so sensitive to the issue that people were moving out of the area just to avoid dying in Ms Hassell’s jurisdiction.

“If people know they are dying they are moving outside of the area,” he said. “That is the perception in the community.

“If people are having a life threatening operation done, they are trying to have it in a place where their body will be respected.”

Dr Asher Gratt, 63, who volunteers for Adath Yisroel, said Ms Hassell’s attitude was inconsiderate.

“It’s patently clear that this is her disregard for the beliefs of Jews and Muslims,” he said.

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