The Church of England has ordered the remains of an alleged paedophile to be exhumed after living family members said they do not wish to be buried alongside him.
The ruling was made by a judge of the Church of England’s Consistory Court after the man was mistakenly buried in a family plot despite assurances from two local vicars.
The Church of England rarely rules in favour of petitions for exhumation due to its theological stance that Christian burial is seen as “the act of committing the mortal remains of the departed into the hands of God”.
The church’s judge, Stephen Eyre QC, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfield, ruled this petition was an exceptional case as the “grave has become a focus of distress and grievance”.
Due to legal reasons the names of the parties and church involved were restricted, save for the fact the incident happened in a parish in the Diocese of Lichfield, in Staffordshire.
A petition to exhume was made after the man died in 2016 and his ashes were interred in a grave with his wife and her two parents.
The couple had been married for 40 years when she died in 2008, but both had been married with children before.
In 2014, a step granddaughter of the husband alleged in a letter to him that he had sexually abused her between the ages of five and 13.
According to court documents, the step granddaughter said she intended to report the allegations, but the husband never faced criminal proceedings.
That same year, the dead wife’s sister, who plans to be buried in the plot with her husband when they die, sent a solicitor’s letter to the man telling him he no longer had permission to be buried in the plot.
The couple also met with the parish’s vicar, who assured them the man’s remains would not be buried in the church yard.
When the man died the church had a new vicar, who also had the situation explained to him but then, according to court documents, “must have forgotten about his conversation”.
In 2017 the new vicar arranged for the man’s internment in the family plot after receiving a petition from his daughter, which made no mention of his wife, her family nor the church’s prior decision.
The daughter of the husband, who had never accepted the allegations against her father, initially agreed to an exhumation after the wife’s family found out about the burial, but later withdrew her agreement, which led to the court ruling.
Judge Eyre granted an application by the wife’s sister for the ashes to be exhumed and moved to the grave of the man’s parents in another church yard.
Despite the church’s normal reluctance to sanction exhumation, he said that in this case he considered what had taken place amounted to “exceptional circumstances”.
Judge Eyre added he was not in a position to judge the validity of the abuse allegations, but said he had no reason to doubt that the step granddaughter genuinely believed her account of “prolonged and repeated sexual abuse”, which she said had had a lasting and harmful effect on her.