A funeral director at the centre of a coffin-swapping controversy says his company “will never take another person out of a coffin before cremation”, after police confirmed criminal charges would not be laid over the incident.
Tony Hart said he was not concerned at all about potential damage to the reputation of his business but changes would be made internally.
Rockhampton police began a fraud investigation when the family of Janice Valigura last week accused Harts Family Funerals of swapping the 74-year-old grandmother’s body from the casket they paid for, into a cheaper coffin before her cremation this month.
The claim was supported by the owner of Rockhampton’s crematorium, and sparked calls for better regulation of Queensland’s funeral industry.
Police on Wednesday announced investigators found no evidence to substantiate a criminal offence had been committed by the Central Queensland company.
“The QPS does not intend to take any further action in relation to this matter … (and) relevant parties have been informed of this decision,” police said.
Funeral company will change practices
Tony Hart defended his company’s actions reiterating it was only following protocol when it temporarily placed Mrs Valigura’s body in the cheaper coffin so it could be refrigerated before cremation.
“The integrity of our company stands tall and people know that,” Mr Hart said.
“At no stage was anything intentional.
“It was due to the conditions of Rockhampton, as you know we had very, very hot conditions.
“We have never and will never participate in a practice known as coffin-swapping, as this would be intentionally to disrespect the wishes of families in the most vulnerable moments.
“We’d like to assure the public that Ms Valigura was indeed cremated in the coffin that had been purchased for her and blessed by her family, and was always intended by Harts Family Funerals.
“We apologise profusely for any distress that this has caused the family.”
Mr Hart said the company had scrutinised its practices in light of the incident.
“In the future, we will never take another person out of a coffin before cremation for any reason,” Mr Hart said.
“We’d also like to add our voice to calls for tighter regulation of the funeral industry.”
The Valigura family has been contacted for comment.