Wrongly buried committed atheist is to be exhumed and cremated

Wrongly buried committed atheist is to be exhumed and cremated June 11, 2019

IN a rare decision, a Church of England Consistory Court judge agreed that a ‘fundamental mistake’ had been made when an atheist was buried in consecrated ground at a church cemetery.

Photo: FTB Chambers

Morag Ellis QC, above, Deputy Chancellor of the Diocese of Southwark, ruled that the remains of Gwendolen Patricia Crow could be exhumed and then cremated after she learned that the dead woman and her family were committed atheists.

Crow, 58, was killed in a road accident on January 10, 2000. She’d hit some black ice, ended up in a ditch, and while she was waiting for help to arrive, was hit by another car. She died later in hospital and was buried ten days later.

However, unbeknownst to her family at the time, she was buried in consecrated ground at a Surrey church yard.

The court seldom approves exhumations but did so in this case which Ellis described as “tragic, remarkable and extraordinary.” She agreed to allow the exhumation so that the family could have the remains cremated and scattered elsewhere. Crow was a keen gardener and her family want her ashes to be scattered in a garden.

The judge said that when Crow was killed her family were “traumatised” and in such shock that a family friend, Simon Ebsory, who was a practicing Christian, arranged the funeral for them:

With the very best of intentions.

However, not realising that Mrs Crow and her family were all committed atheists, the family friend arranged for her to be buried in St Nicholas Church churchyard at Charlwood near Crawley, Surrey.

The plea to have her exhumed was headed by Crow’s daughter, Rebecca and backed by Crow’s widower, William Crow, 60, and her other daughters Justine, Tiffany and Gemma. The family argued:

We do not regard this as a suitable place to honour the memory of this woman.

Judge Ellis heard that Rebecca Crow’s parents were:

Convinced atheists and the girls had all been deliberately brought up in that stance.

It was only relatively recently that the views of the family, who moved to Suffolk soon after Crow’s death, became known, along with their worries about visiting and caring for the grave.

In her plea for exhumation, the daughter wrote :

Our mother did not refer to herself as a Christian (neither does our father) and was not a churchgoer or observer of Christian ceremony of any kind and we were not brought up as Church-going Christians and it was therefore some surprise to us that she would be buried in a churchyard and most particularly in consecrated ground.

She said that her grave in a “very shaded dank and damp area of the cemetery” is:

Particularly upsetting. We do not regard this as a suitable place to honour the memory of this woman and we wish therefore to take steps to rectify an unhappy situation in a dignified and respectful manner.

In granting the family’s wishes the judge said :

The facts of this case are tragic and remarkable. Whilst not a ‘mistake’ case of the sort which the Courts have sometimes considered, such as burial in consecrated as opposed to un-consecrated ground as a result of administrative error, I am persuaded that there was a fundamental mistake of intention in this case.

For a family of conscientious atheists, Christian burial was not the right choice. The daughters have tried very hard to honour and make sense of their mother’s memory through the medium of her grave, but they reached a point whereby the thing which should provide some solace was doing the opposite.

When Mrs Crow died, she was on her way to help out at her daughter Justine’s bookshop. Justine was pregnant at the time and gave birth the day after the accident.

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  • Broga

    I’m not sure what I think about this as ashes are ashes and, if not ashes, the worms get the body. However, from a personal point of view I feel repelled at the idea of being buried in a Christian cemetery nor do I want any involvement of Christian clergy. Being tipped into the sea is attractive as is at the foot of a tree or on a habitat pile. My parents – law, both enthusiastic gardeners had their ashes tipped on their garden. How do we know we get the right ashes? Does it matter?

    On this particular tragedy, anything that eases the desperate grief is worth doing.

  • Vanity Unfair

    It was only relatively recently that the views of the family, who moved to Suffolk soon after Crow’s death, became known, along with their worries about visiting and caring for the grave.
    I can understand that in the aftermath the family generally thought that a grave is a grave and left it at that without worrying about religion and that a friend had spared them the taxing work. I don’t suppose the friend realised the implications, either.

    However, sometimes, the more I find out about the law, the less I understand. Usually an application to exhume a body requires a form to be submitted to the Ministry of Justice. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/770220/application-exhumation-licence.pdf
    It states, “The application will normally be decided within 20 days of receipt by the Ministry of Justice.”
    The form does not mention having to apply for C of E permission but it is in the notes on page nine, which we all read, of course.
    The question arises; why does the C of E still have its own courts? Can the C of E complain of Sharia and Beth Din while they hang on to their own legally-recognised courts? (OK that’s two questions but the second is dependent on the first.) One law for all should include them too.

  • Dan Hunter

    In a graveyard dank and dreary came a greaver alone and leery. Why not a flowery garden instead of a mouldy place?

  • Jim Jones

    Look into Reef Burial or Human Composting. There’s also Tree Burial (The Living Urn).

  • Jim Jones

    Mo magic rules = mo money.

  • TommYYman

    He’s dead Jim

  • Jim Jones

    > According to her, it is never too late as Jesus offers infinite love and forgiveness.
    You could point out (I would) that this is quite a trick since bible Jesus never existed. He was the Slender Man of his time.

  • David Cromie

    It seems strange that a family friend, a christian, did not know that the family were all atheists.

    In my opinion, ‘consecrated ground’ is just ground, but the family had every right to have the body exhumed and dealt with as they wished.

    Just think of all the vile specimens of humanity that are buried in ‘holy’ ground, from popes downwards. What decent person would like to be buried next to an of them?