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Police investigation ‘should spur funeral director regulation debate’

An ongoing police investigation in Hull should spark a debate on whether funeral director businesses should be subject to greater regulation in England, an expert in health regulation has said.

Humberside Police has confirmed that, after receiving reports of concern about the storage and management processes of the deceased within the Legacy Independent Funeral premises on Hessle Road in Hull, it recovered 35 deceased people on Friday 8 and Saturday 9 March 2024 and further identified what it believes is a quantity of human ashes.

A man and a woman were arrested by officers of the force on suspicion of prevention of a lawful and decent burial, fraud by false representation and fraud by abuse of position. They have subsequently been released on bail. Humberside Police said their investigation is ongoing and will take a considerable time to complete.

Currently, funeral director businesses are not subject to regulation in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, except to the extent that they provide or sell pre-paid funeral plans, for which they require authorisation from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). A new licensing scheme for funeral directors is proposed in Scotland, which would build on existing requirements arising under the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016.

Louise Fullwood of Pinsent Masons said the lack of regulation over the way funeral directors store and manage the bodies of the deceased in the rest of the UK sits at odds with how human tissue is otherwise regulated.

“Currently, there are no licensing or registration schemes, no compulsory professional qualifications or training, nor other statutory restrictions on who can operate as a funeral director,” Fullwood said. “Quality and service standards are not prescribed by law either, and there is no statutory inspection regime for funeral directors’ premises.”

“The position can be compared with the regulatory regime that applies to body parts, organs and tissues under the Human Tissue Act. This was introduced in response to the scandal at Alder Hey and Bristol Children’s Hospital where thousands of body parts of children had been removed and kept in hospital storage. The Human Tissue Act set out a strict regulatory regime around this, with inspection, licensing and enforcement by the Human Tissue Authority,” she said.

“It is odd that there is a stronger regulatory regime around, say, a hospital’s retention and storage of a small tissue sample taken from operating on a person, than from a funeral director’s storage and management of an entire body. The news of the police investigation in Hull should prompt discussion on strengthening regulation in this area,” she said.

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