Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Partner of Jamie Pooley says her calls for him to be cremated were ignored by whanau

A battle over whether to exhume the body of young Christchurch father Jamie Pooley has reached the High Court. Photo: supplied.
A battle over whether to exhume the body of young Christchurch father Jamie Pooley has reached the High Court. Photo: supplied.

The partner of a young Christchurch father who died suddenly in 2011 says she was "sidelined" during the funeral planning and that he was buried against his wishes, a trial into whether he should be exhumed and cremated has heard.

Cheyenne Rana Biddle wants to exhume the body of her partner, Jamie Robert Pooley, who died on May 14, 2011 and was buried in a family plot at Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch.

Biddle claims the 27-year-old father-of-three always wanted to be cremated.

Pooley's whanau deny the claims and do not want him disturbed.

The battle has reached the High Court at Christchurch.

Justice Gerald Nation this morning welcomed both whanau to court and said it was important that both parties treat each other with respect.

After delivering a karakia, the judge said the best result, in terms of respecting Pooley, was to try to reach agreement without having to battle it out in court.

He gave both parties one final chance to talk in private, behind closed doors, to try to reach agreement this morning.

However, after a short adjournment, they declined the opportunity.

The three-day hearing has now started.

Biddle, as administrator of the estate of Pooley, who did not have a will, has the legal right to disinter his body, cremate him, and have his ashes returned to his Ngati Porou ancestral home in the North Island, her lawyer Phillip Allan said in his opening remarks.

Although the case has parallels with that of James Takamore, which was finally resolved after eight years through behind-closed-doors mediation, Allan said the Pooley case was "slightly more complex".

After Takamore's death in 2007, his Tuhoe whanau allegedly snatched his body, claiming Maori custom.

But in this case, the body was not challenged for, or taken.

Instead, Biddle claims that after Pooley's sudden death, her input around funeral arrangements and his resting place were either "ignored or overruled rather than properly respected".

"Everything happened too fast," Allan said.

Allan says that under the law, Biddle's rights as administrator of his estate gives her the right to now disinter his body. Biddle took the witness stand today. She said she had been in a de facto relationship with Pooley for nearly six years. They had two children together.

In private, they had discussed what would happen to them if either of them died, and what their funeral wishes would be, Biddle told the court.

Biddle said they both decided they would be cremated and that the children could decide where the ashes would be scattered.

She was unaware of him sharing his burial wishes with anyone else. He did not have a will.

They never discussed their deaths with their children as they were too young, she said.

After his sudden death - which Justice Nation said was one of the hardest things about the case, given that he was so young and his death so unexpected - Biddle felt "helpless . . . in total shock" as the Pooley family "took full control" of the funeral arrangements.

She says she raised Pooley's wishes to be cremated and returned to his ancestral home but felt "sidelined" by his family, the court heard.

Biddle says that before his funeral she wanted him to lie in a marae "at his home... but they said no, he's staying here, at home".

Biddle also claimed that Maori tikanga, or custom, was not followed properly after Pooley's death.

Under cross-examination by Grant Tyrrell, lawyer acting for the Pooley family, she accepted he had been returned to the Papatuanuku, or Maori earth mother, by being buried.

However, Biddle believed: "He's in the wrong place . . . going home was important to him."

Tyrrell suggested it would be a "significant departure" from tikanga if he was to be exhumed now, more than five years after his death.

Shortly after the burial, she says she raised the issue with the Pooley whanau, and again in 2012, but says things only got "heated".

In March 2013, a lawyer acting for her wrote to the family outlining her plans to have him exhumed. A year later, legal proceedings were issued.

The parties are also battling over Maori weapons belonging to Pooley - two taiaha (closed-quarters staffs) and one tewhatewha (long-handled club) - taonga which Biddle wants made available "for his sons to earn".

The Pooley whanau's main argument against exhumation - which has legal precedent in New Zealand - is that Pooley's "very tapu" body has laid in rest for more than four years.

Pooley's eldest son, Tuhaka Pooley, 14, wants his father - a former under-18 New Zealand league player and Aranui High School student - left alone.

"I feel like Dad is in the right place because he is Maori and he is in a Maori cemetery and it is peaceful there. I can't imagine him being anywhere else," he previously told the Herald.

- NZ Herald

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