16 April 2024

Ashes recovered from Legacy Funerals ‘impossible to be identified’

Humberside Police have said they will not be able to identify any of the ashes recovered during the criminal investigation into the practices of Legacy Independent Funeral Directors.

In a press conference a month after the investigation began, police acknowledged how “devastating” this news would be for the families and loved ones affected.

Representatives from both local authorities also gave an update on their work alongside the police and local and national partners.

Police first received a report on March 6 of concern for the storage and management processes relating to care of the deceased in the company’s funeral parlours – two in Hull and one in Beverley.

In the media briefing today (Thursday, April 4), Assistant Chief Constable Thom McLoughlin opened by thanking all those who had been affected by the investigation.

He said: “Firstly, I would like to offer my sincere gratitude to the families, loved ones and to all of those who have been impacted since the launch of the investigation into Legacy Funeral Directors four weeks ago.

“From the outset they have acted with dignity and patience, recognising the enormity of the task and challenges faced by investigators, and I know this cannot have been easy.”

He said that, in full consultation with the families and the coroner, extensive work was continuing to formally identify the 35 bodies that were recovered from Legacy’s Hessle Road site – but added that it would be impossible to identify any of the ashes that were also removed from the premises, which he acknowledged would be “devastating news” for families and loved ones.

He added: “This is a lengthy process that has to follow the coroner’s regulations, but when complete will provide families with complete assurance as to the identity of their loved ones and repatriation with their families.

“I remain committed to keeping bereaved families at the heart of this investigation. Therefore, these results will only be provided directly to them to ensure their privacy and dignity is maintained.

“Since the start of the investigation our dedicated phone line has received over 2,000 calls from concerned members of the public. Of those a significant number were understandably concerned about the identification of the ashes of their loved ones so that repatriation with their families can take place.

“We have been working closely with forensic scientists and specialists to assess whether it was possible to extract DNA from the human ashes in order to identify them.

“While the expert opinion provides us with assurance that the proper crematorium process had been followed; unfortunately, given the high temperature required to carry out a cremation, the DNA will have been broken down and degraded to such a level, that we would not be able to recover a meaningful DNA profile.

“This means that we are unable to identify any of the human ashes. This will, of course, be devastating news for families and loved ones and you have my heartfelt condolences at this difficult time.

“This weekend officers from the investigation team have been in contact with over 700 families to update them regarding the scientific advice and offer support.

“Our specially trained family liaison officers continue to support and update the families of the 35 deceased and we have also been in contact with a number of families regarding the ashes recovered from the premises.

“In addition we have had a number of calls that relate to suspected financial and fraudulent activity. I have dedicated, specialist investigation teams carrying out numerous inquiries and following up on various leads and information.

“If you have concerns over a funeral plan that you or a loved one have taken out, please contact and speak to your insurance provider in the first instance and establish if the policy is legitimate or not. If not, please report it to the police by calling the non-emergency number 101 or via the Humberside Police website.

“I can confirm that a man and a woman remain on police bail in connection to the investigation.

“We must remember that, at the core of this investigation are heartbroken, devastated families and loved ones. I recognise that this has been a difficult and distressing time for those involved, and there is no doubt that the impact has been felt across our communities.

“You will continue to have questions, and I want to offer my reassurance that we will release updates on any significant developments as and when we are able. But we do need to be mindful not to jeopardise ongoing investigations and I ask that people refrain from speculating and continue to show the utmost respect for the privacy of those bereaved families within our community.”

Providing an update from Hull City Council, Julia Weldon, director of public health, said that both Hull and East Riding councils had been working with Humberside Police, as well as local and national partners, since the investigation began. She said that both local authorities were taking the lead on co-ordinating the help and support available to those directly affected as well as the wider community.

She said: “We recognise that this has been an exceptionally difficult time for families and our community – my heart goes out to you all. I wanted to let you know we are here for all those affected directly or indirectly across our community.

“As the situation continues to move forward, there will be many more people in need of guidance, advice and support. Our dedicated helpline and support service is there for you.

“For anybody with ongoing concerns, whether they are directly or indirectly affected by the incident, there is a dedicated helpline and support service, provided by the independent charity Victim Support, which can be reached 24/7 on 0808 281 1136.

“The helpline and support service provided is there to help and whether you need practical or emotional support we will ensure you are connected as quickly as possible to people and services that can help you and will be there with you as long as you need us.

“I also wanted to let you know that we are working alongside the family support officers at Humberside Police to support families at the centre of this incident. Our message to them is that when they are ready to discuss funeral arrangements, they do not need to worry about the costs.

“Finally, I want to urge anyone affected who needs help to reach out and call the dedicated help and support service. That number is 0808 281 1136 and it is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.”

Providing an update from East Riding Council, Angela Dearing, director of housing, transportation and public protection, said: “As a consequence of this police investigation our public protection teams, along with our partners from Hull City Council have visited every funeral director operating in our area.

“Over three weeks we have visited 50 premises to review compliance with health and safety regulations, operational procedures and care of the deceased, and to offer support and advice to businesses.

“While the sector is not formally regulated nationally, the visits were an opportunity for us to look at a number of key areas of funeral directors’ business.

“These voluntary visits were conducted in partnership with funeral directors, in order to give reassurances to customers and our local funeral directors.

“All the businesses we visited were receptive if any advice or suggestions were made.

“It is very clear from our visits that the ongoing incident at Legacy Independent Funeral Directors is in no way typical of the funeral industry in our area.

“We would like to thank all the funeral businesses for their cooperation, professionalism and for their support of these visits and we hope this highlights the commitment funeral directors in our area have in upholding best practices and to serving the needs of the community.”

Anyone with concerns directly related to the case should call the police helpline on 0800 051 4674 or, if calling from abroad, 0207 126 7619.

Alternatively, visit the Humberside Police Major Incident Portal (MIPP) at mipp.police.uk/operation/16HQ19P01-PO1.