A Christchurch funeral firm is being investigated by police after complaints it failed to file death certificates, while one grieving mother doubts whether her daughter was properly embalmed.

Police have confirmed they are investigating a complaint against Poppy Funerals in Christchurch made by Michelle Bishop, whose 24-year-old daughter Sharnae McLean died unexpectedly last month.

The registered nurse and mother of a 5-year-old daughter, who was also 10 weeks pregnant, died in her sleep on August 11.

Bishop chose Poppy Funerals for McLean's cremation because Poppy was her daughter's nickname.

But Bishop says the entire funeral process - before, during, and after - has been a "nightmare" for the devastated family.


"I'm absolutely distraught. What has happened to us has been unfair and disrespectful. It just feels unbelievable," Bishop says.

The first warning signs, Bishop says, came after McLean's body was returned to the family four days after her death.

Bishop says Poppy Funerals' director and owner Jasmin Teague had assured her that her daughter would be embalmed.

But within two hours, Bishop says she noticed her daughter's face "changing colour very quickly" and turning grey.

Sharnae McLean, 24, died suddenly in her sleep on August 11. Her mother Michelle Bishop is calling for the funeral industry to be regulated after a
Sharnae McLean, 24, died suddenly in her sleep on August 11. Her mother Michelle Bishop is calling for the funeral industry to be regulated after a "nightmare" experience with a Christchurch firm. Photo / Supplied

"It started to look like heavy bruising," Bishop said.

She phoned Teague who arrived quickly and said it could have been a reaction to the embalming.

She claims that Teague - who has strongly denied there were any problems over embalming the body - then produced a Thin Lizzy foundation powder compact and started dusting McLean's face.

"I thought it was strange but I was still in a state of shock - my 24-year-old pregnant daughter had just died and we didn't even know how," Bishop said.

Teague left the family the compact case in the coffin and said for them to apply touch-ups as required, Bishop said.


By the next day, the family noticed a strange smell coming from the coffin. They then noticed that McLean's hand had "gone flat and turned crimson black".

"Alarm bells started ringing loudly," Bishop said.

"Either my daughter was not embalmed at all, or else it was done very badly."

Grieving mother Michelle Bishop is calling for the funeral industry to be regulated after a
Grieving mother Michelle Bishop is calling for the funeral industry to be regulated after a "nightmare" experience with Christchurch firm Poppy Funerals. Photo / Supplied

The family also requested the funeral service and cremation at Harewood Memorial Gardens and Crematorium but was told it was booked out.

Another venue fell through and so the service was held at Redwood Hotel's Styx function room.

"When we turned up, I was embarrassed ... gobsmacked. It was just unbelievable. We have eaten there," Bishop said.

Bishop also says Poppy Funerals never registered her daughter's death with Births, Deaths and Marriages as required under the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act 1995. They also failed to supply two urns, says Bishop, who has lodged a police complaint.

Canterbury Police metro area commander Superintendent Lane Todd confirmed: "A complaint has been made to police and we are investigating."

Teague said the company is bound by confidentiality agreements for individual cases.

But she is aware of issues around death certificates and "as a company and personally I do not find this acceptable".

"We believe the issues to be rectified now and individual cases will be handled direct with the families involved. All deaths have been registered and all death certificates received and forwarded to their appropriate contact person," she said.

Asked about Bishop's accusations around embalming, Teague was "offended at the comments" and denied the allegations.

"In my experience dealing with hundreds of deceased bodies - not once have I ever seen hands 'go flat'," she said.

She said Poppy Funerals had not received any complaints about Redwood Hotel as a venue.

"The Redwood Hotel has a lovely calm private function room and was an exceptional venue," Teague said.

"All venues are discussed with families at the time of arrangement and if families are unhappy with the options suggested they are not used.

"This is our only comment on the matter and no further statements will be made."

Maree Ford's 47-year-old husband Graham, and father of their two daughters, Molly, 6, and Alex, 4, chose Poppy Funerals eight months ago after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. He thought they would be a fitting tribute given that his father had been in the army.

More than a month after he died, the funeral parlour hadn't registered his death, despite being required to do so within three days.

Ford ended up having to file the paperwork herself.

Like Bishop, Ford wants to highlight their ordeals to ensure "this doesn't happen to anybody else".

Bishop is calling for the funeral industry to be regulated and is considering launching a petition.

Births, Deaths and Marriages NZ deputy registrar general Adrian Jarvis confirmed they have received complaints about Poppy Funerals.

"We've had some unsatisfied customers in dealing with this particular funeral director," he said. Jarvis wouldn't say exactly how many complaints he has received, but confirmed it's "more than two".

"We are working with the particular funeral directors to try and improve their services," he said.

The Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand (FDANZ) says there are around 150 funeral companies in the country. A total of 124 of them are voluntarily registered but Poppy Funerals is not.

FDANZ chief executive Katrina Shanks says anyone can set up a funeral directory - as long as the local authority approves.

She says two years ago the Law Commission recommended all premises should have a qualified funeral director on site, but this was never implemented.