Crematorium disputes coffin defence
A ROCKHAMPTON crematorium proprietor has said the body of a grandmother would have been cremated in the wrong coffin if a friend had not raised an alarm.
Jenny McBean's account of Tuesday's cremation of Janice Valigura is in direct contradiction to funeral director Tony Hart from Hart's Family Funerals.
Mr Hart has claimed Ms Valigura's body was removed from a $1700 coffin after her funeral and placed in a pine box as a temporary measure.
He claimed a delay at the crematorium meant the coffin would have to be stored in a cold room and could have cracked.
But Mrs McBean said Mr Hart's company called the crematorium on Monday to say they were running late and would not meet the scheduled 1pm cremation.
She said the pine box coffin with flowers on top arrived just after 2pm in a station wagon rather than the hearse.
"We at that stage had another cremation going on and as the time worked out we decided that we would hold Janice over in our cold room," she said.
The body was scheduled to be cremated first thing Tuesday morning but a friend of the Valigura family also saw the coffin arrive and raised the alarm.
Ms McBean said she received an emergency call Monday night asking her to not cremate Ms Valigura until the family had time to investigate what had happened.
"They came here and it was devastating, just devastating," she said.
"If I had not been contacted on Monday night it would have been too late."
She said later on Tuesday, Hart's Family Funerals brought the original coffin back and it was used for the cremation.
"When it came back on Tuesday, it was all polished and shined as if it was ready to sell again," she said.
Mrs McBean said if the cremation had taken place as scheduled there would not have been any record of what coffin Ms Valigura was in because that was not included in the paperwork.
She said there were no instructions from the funeral director about them returning to change the coffins and that it would not have been a problem to store it in a cold room.
"I've been in the industry 9 years I have never seen one crack, they would be designed to be held in cold rooms," she said.
EARLIER: A funeral director under investigation for allegedly swapping the casket of a dead grandma has claimed he performed the swap to save her coffin from cracking in cold conditions.
Tony Hart yesterday told The Courier-Mail his company, Harts Family Funerals, only transferred the body of Janice Cecilia Valigura into a cheap pine coffin to save the real coffin from cracking.
Distraught family members of the 74-year-old woman, including son Mick Valigura, only discovered the swap when they went to say their goodbyes at a crematorium the day after the funeral.
Breaking his silence yesterday, Mr Hart said a delay at the crematorium meant Ms Valigura's coffin had to be returned to a freezer before the cremation.
He claimed the change of temperature would have cracked the $1700 heavily lacquered coffin so it was put in a transfer shell.
"The coffin she was cremated in was the same one that the family bought," he said.
Mr Hart denied ever cremating someone in a different coffin to the one their family had paid for, and also denied ever re-using a coffin.
Police yesterday executed a search warrant at the Rockhampton funeral home as part of a fraud investigation.
Detectives raided the funeral home about 3pm, with two returning later in the day.
Fitzroy Funerals director Colin Dean raised the alarm about the swap when he visited the crematorium and noticed the cheap transfer shell seemingly waiting to be incinerated.
"The flowers on top of it were worth more than the entire coffin," he said.
He said he'd heard rumours of coffins being swapped between funeral and cremation and was staggered when he realised what was happening.
The funeral company listed on Ms Valigura's death notice was Mount Morgan Funerals, a division of Mr Hart's company, but director Carol Glover said her company had no role in the funeral and did not know why it appeared on the death notice.
"The family contacted us then we passed it back to Harts Family Funerals," she said.
She said she had never moved a body out of a coffin after a funeral.
"Once the family has selected the coffin that they want for their loved one, that's the one they were placed in and that's the one they stayed in for the whole time," she said.
The state's peak funeral directors body expressed their sympathy to the Valiguras and called on the State Government to do more around funeral home licensing.
The Office of Fair Trading said a voluntary code of conduct had been established in 2013 to "promote best practice", but Queensland Funeral Directors Association head Anton Brown said more had to be done.
"The QFDA has, for years, been corresponding with Government (in office) and getting nowhere.
"The QFDA has been requesting all funeral homes be licensed, however, the Government has not adhered to our frequent requests."
Mr Brown said compulsory licensing measures would give the government greater control over regulating the industry. Mr Brown said he hoped the family would get some peace of mind following an investigation.
An OFT spokesperson said no official complaint had been made to them though they were aware of the matter.