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Blenheim funeral director 'naïve'

15 July 2004


Blenheim funeral director 'naïve'
(727 words)

The Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand (FDANZ) has described the actions of one of its provisional members as 'naïve', but says the company had no intention to defraud.

This follows a formal complaint by a Marlborough family to the Association and the Police about the actions of Cloudy Bay Funeral Services, following a funeral in April.

The family of the late Ronald Smith complained that his rimu veneer casket was swapped by Cloudy Bay principal David Buckley for a customwood casket of lesser value between the funeral and cremation. They were also concerned that they were unable to travel to the crematorium to make a 'final farewell' and that there was an undue delay in cremating Mr Smith.

The Police announced earlier this week that they had completed their investigation and found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

In its findings, the FDANZ disputes committee says Mr Smith's casket was substituted after being severely damaged at the funeral home between the funeral and cremation.

"However the substituted casket did not meet the requirements
of the FDANZ Code of Conduct ... and the committee believe Cloudy Bay was morally wrong not to have used an identical substitute casket."

The committee was unable to ascertain beyond doubt whether the Smith family had arranged to attend the cremation, because of the differing versions of the two parties.

"It is worth noting that Cloudy Bay Funeral Services has never taken a family to the Crematorium, but also worth noting that Mrs Smith who is of Maori descent would expect to stay with the deceased until the final disposal of the body."

The delay in cremating Mr Smith was due in part to the funeral being held on the Thursday afternoon before the cremator closed for Good Friday.

The committee believes a lack of communication played a significant part in this complaint. It says Cloudy Bay Funeral Services should have discussed the possibility of an after hours cremation with the crematorium and the Smith family should have been offered that option, even if an after hours fee applied.

"In the absence of any other discussion or advice, it was reasonable for Mr and Mrs Smith to expect that the cremation would have followed immediately after the funeral service," say the findings.

"It appears from conversations with Mr and Mrs Smith that they were very satisfied with the Cloudy Bay Funeral Services provision of service up to the point when they discovered that Mr Ronald Smith had not been cremated on the Thursday as they anticipated.

"Mr Buckley should have told the family straight away that as the time frame for the cremation could not be met, that the cremation was to be delayed. Similarly, when the casket was damaged, Mr Buckley should have advised the family straight away."

In their complaint, the Smith family called for Cloudy Bay Funeral Services to receive the highest form of penalty available, possibly of being expelled from the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand, and ideally that they not be able to practice funeral directing again.

Because there is no regulation of the funeral profession in New Zealand, FDANZ president John Duncan says it is in the public interest that Cloudy Bay Funeral Home remain a member of the Association.

"As an Association, we take professional standards very seriously," Mr Duncan says.

"But it is the view of the committee that Mr Buckley was naïve in the manner in which he dealt with this matter – there was no deliberate intention on his part to defraud.

"Membership is the best way to ensure the staff at Cloudy Bay meet the high standards the public expects from all funeral directors.

"As provisional members of the Association, working toward full membership and possible Griefcare accreditation, its staff will be required to participate in ongoing professional development in addition to being provided with guidance from an industry mentor."

Cloudy Bay Funeral Services has been required by the Association to provide a written apology to the Smith family and waive all costs associated with the funeral of the late Mr Ronald Smith. Mr Buckley has already undertaken to do this.

He is also required to enrol in the 2005 National Certificate in Funeral Directing course.

"With the knowledge gained from attendance on this course, the Committee is confident that no further situations such as this will recur," say the findings.


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