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exhume ashes oxford

A change of mind is not a good enough reason

Seeking to exhume a loved one’s ashes is difficult when they are buried on Church land, you will need to apply to the Consistory Court of the diocese and demonstrate: exceptional circumstance.

On the blog we like to report any case we come across so that you can get a better pictures as to what the Court needs to grant an application.

Mrs Tollis submitted a petition to have her husbands remains exhumed from a churchyard in Oxfordshire. Mrs Tollis, a practising Roman Catholic, was left to determine her husband’s resting place: who passed away in 2013. He did not express an opinion and was not religious. So with the approval of the family she chose to inter in the local churchyard – St Peter’s, Wootton, Boars Hill in Oxford.

However, Mrs Tollis said she “came to realise quite quickly that [she] had made a serious error of judgement”, on deeper reflection she considered Antibes, in France, would be a more appropriate as this is where he had spent a greater part of his life and felt very attached too.

Mr Tollis thought that she had superimposed her own religious belief over the top of her husband’s religious indifference. She said she had an “acute and distressing feeling of incompletion, and a very real need to have a sadly mistaken decision put right”.

Unfortunately, although there was sympathy for Mrs Tollis’ plight (whose application was supported by the Priest and family) the court felt they had to follow precedent and rejected the application. The Chancellor of Oxford, the Revd Alexander McGregor, said that he was legally bound to follow the principles of law governing exhumation issued by the Court of Arches in the Blagdon Cemetery case ([2002] Fam 299).

The court reported that although Mrs Tollis found herself in a stressful situation, and had serious concerns about the choice she made in 2014, her state of mind did not approach the “serious psychiatric or psychological problems”, where there was medical evidence demonstrating a link with the location of the grave.

And, although Mr Tollis had had strong connections with Antibes, he had not expressed any particular wishes about the place where he should be buried. It was not, therefore, a case where the wishes of a deceased had not been complied with, and where a family were trying to put matters right, the Chancellor said.

Mr Tollis was not a practising Christian, and, therefore, St Peter’s churchyard may not have had any particular significance for him; but there was no evidence that he would have objected to being buried there, and Mrs Tollis’s decision to inter his remains there could not be criticised.

The Chancellor said that this case could not be distinguished from what the Court of Arches categorised as a change of mind on the part of those responsible for the interment.

So a change of mind does not count, these sad case will continue to crop up, the Church is unlikely to change precedent on this for many years if at all. Our advise is: take your time before you decide – there is no rush.

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