Bodies left in Hackney mortuary for six months

A generic mortuary. Credit: P.J.L Laurens.

A Hackney mortuary kept 15 bodies in storage for more than 200 days after the person had died, figures from the last three years have revealed.

Out of the 177 bodies stored for 28 days or more in Hackney Mortuary, three corpses remained in refrigerators for more than a year before being released for funeral.

The statistics, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that some families are leaving their relatives in storage for months due to funeral costs and other issues. The average time spent in the mortuary was just over 29 days.

To protect the identity of the deceased and their families, the council was unable to provide the specific details of each case. However, they were able to provide general information about why such delays took place.

The mortuary estimates that 25-30 per cent of cases are referred to the council for a ‘social funeral’, one for which the bereaved receive financial help, which can add time onto their stay due to negotiations between the family and Hackney Bereavement Service.

The amount families can receive from the Government has remained at £700 for the past 14 years, despite the average cost for a basic funeral doubling over the same period to more than £4,000, according to insurance company SunLife.

In three cases a family member collected all the funeral paperwork before disappearing and leaving the rest of the family unable to continue with the funeral plans until the paperwork was tracked down or replacement certificates found.

Commenting on the figures, a council spokesperson said: “There are a range of issues that can affect the family’s ability to make funeral arrangements, including costs, support needs, visas and relational/familial disagreements.

“The mortuary has no control or authorisation over funeral arrangements, including how long the process is taking.

“It operates as the storage and preparation space for coronial assessments, transferring the deceased to appropriate undertakers as directed, and only when the Registrars and others have agreed that it is okay to do so.”