Funeral code breached

By Sophie Rishworth of the Gisborne Herald

Wairoa’s sole service ‘acted unprofessionally’.
Photo / iStock
Photo / iStock

A funeral director has been ordered to refund a grieving family more than $1500 and put under supervision by the industry's professional body for breaching a code of conduct and failing to protect the dignity of a dead woman.

The family say it is the closure they have been waiting for -- 16 months after the death of their mother.

Dolores Baty, 88, died on October 24, 2014. She had eight children.

Eldest daughter Kitty Turner said their mother had a wonderful life and a beautiful, peaceful death surrounded by those who loved and adored her.

It was what happened next that left them "shocked".

From the initial phone call to the cremation, Mrs Turner said she and her family found Allan Pickering Funeral Services unprofessional and lacking in respect for their loss.

In December 2014, they wrote to the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand (FDANZ) with 16 issues where they felt Allan Pickering had acted unprofessionally.

These included Mr Pickering being "jovial" when he arrived to collect their mother's body, and offering no condolences. Mr Pickering says the family was having a barbecue and he was merely responding in like to the mood he was met with. The family do not agree.

Mrs Turner said she and other members of the family asked to accompany their mother's body to the funeral home.

They say Mr Pickering never verbally asked if they wished her to be embalmed -- the FDANZ code states that there must be consent.

The family would have preferred their mother not to be embalmed.

While Mr Pickering was embalming, a process which can take a few hours, he invited the Baty family to have a cup of tea while they waited.

The kitchen area they were led to was in the cabinet-making area -- a business Mr Pickering also operates -- where a casket was being built. They made their cup of tea but chose to drink it elsewhere because they found it culturally inappropriate to sit beside a casket while having a cup of tea.

Because Mrs Baty had eight children, Mrs Turner said they asked Mr Pickering if he could put two extra handles on the casket, which had six handles, so all the children could carry her into the church, but he told them no.

They felt his manner was inflexible.

The family say the manner in which their mother's body was presented to her three daughters for dressing was shocking.

Mr Pickering had no assistant and the family were asked to help move Mrs Baty more than once. Although they did, as it was their mother, Mrs Turner said it was a very distressing experience.

Next, came the matter of cremation.

Mrs Turner said Mr Pickering rang Evans Funeral Service in Gisborne who operate the Gisborne crematorium, in front of the family and stated he "had one for cremation" and never mentioned their mother by name.

Mrs Turner said he showed a casual and unprofessional approach to their grieving family.

"When we asked if we could collect Mum on the same day, he laughed and said, 'No, she would still be hot'."

Mrs Turner said the family were shocked with his blase attitude and lack of professionalism.

Mr Pickering also forgot to place a death notice in the Wairoa Star, the family said.

Given the opportunity to respond to the family's allegations, Mr Pickering started with an apology.

"I am sorry. I feel embarrassed and regretful that my services provided you with a negative funeral experience," he wrote.

"I can assure you this was never my intention. I would like to inform you that because of this letter we have implemented several changes to our funeral business operations, which hopefully will lead to a more positive funeral experience for future clients."

In July 2015, the FDANZ upheld the Baty family's claims and stated the key problem in the case "was around poor communication".

The findings said the late Mrs Baty's dignity was not protected.

The FDANZ Board recommended 12 months of supervision, additional support to Pickering Funeral Directors and a premises inspection.

FDANZ also recommended a senior funeral director from a neighbouring town assist and provide guidance to help Mr Pickering update his policies and procedures.

Mr Pickering is the only funeral director in Wairoa.

The Baty family took the matter further and went to the Disputes Tribunal in October 2015. They did not feel Mr Pickering had provided reasonable care and skill in his services, as required under the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993.

The Disputes Tribunal agreed. Last month Mr Pickering was ordered to refund the family $1575 -- 75 per cent of his $2100 professional fees.

The Wairoa family are relieved to finally have closure but say the experience was "shocking".

Mr Pickering has written two letters of apology. He refutes many of the claims made by the Baty family but has also promised to change the way he does things to prevent further incidents.

He said he had taken the findings of the review into consideration and reviewed his processes to continue to reflect best practice.

- Gisborne Herald

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