'COFFIN SWAP': Funeral director reveals what happened
FUNERAL director Tony Hart has released an in-depth statement following a police announcement that no charges would be laid after an investigation into a "coffin switch" complaint.
Police today said the case was now closed following an extensive investigation where no evidence was found "to substantiate a criminal offence".
Mr Hart, who runs the Rockhampton-based Harts Family Funerals, moved to clarify events reported in the media during the past week.
"There were a series of uncommon incidents that resulted in an unfortunate mistake surrounding the funeral of Mrs Janice Valigura," the statement said.
"We would now like to explain as sensitively and clearly as possible how these events unfolded.
"Like many summer days in Rockhampton, Monday 8 January was a hot day. The Valigura family held a private viewing of Mrs Valigura prior to her funeral, and as the body was returned to the Harts Family Funerals mortuary, the 8-hour time limit set by Queensland Workplace Health and Safety for a body to be out of the cold room was approaching.
"There was no plan for the family to attend the cremation, as they had already blessed the coffin and said their farewells.
"Due to a mechanical breakdown of the Harts Family Funerals transfer vehicle earlier that day, an extremely hot day and out of our desire to preserve both Mrs Valigura's body and the expensive coffin that the Valigura family had purchased, Mrs Valigura's body was placed inside what we call a 'transporter shell' coffin before being transferred to the cold room.
"This was never intended to be permanent, and was simply a step taken to stop the lacquer on the expensive coffin from shattering (in going from 32+ degree heat to the 4-degree cold room).
"The transporter shell coffin was placed in the cold room with a cloth cover and flower arrangement on it, and the expensive coffin was placed beside the cold room with a similar cloth cover for protection.
"When Mrs Valigura was taken out of the cold room and transferred to the crematorium, the two similar cloth covers meant that our employee was unaware that Mrs Valigura was still in the transporter coffin and not in her intended coffin.
"Harts Family Funerals realised this mistake, immediately took responsibility and acted quickly to rectify it, with Mrs Valigura being cremated the same day in her original coffin.
"The family was advised of the mistake and witnessed the cremation of Mrs Valigura in her original coffin."
Funeral Director Tony Hart said his concern was for the wellbeing of the Valigura family, as well as ensuring that a situation like this never arises again.
Mr Hart made the following statement:
"We apologise profusely for our mistake and the distress that it has caused the family. Our only intention was to care for the Valigura family and respect their wishes, which is why the mistake was rectified as soon as it was noticed.
We would like to assure the public that Mrs Valigura was indeed cremated in the coffin that had been purchased for her and blessed by her family, as was always intended. Harts Family
Funerals have never and will never participate in the practice known as 'coffin swapping', as that would be to intentionally disrespect the wishes of families during their most vulnerable moments in direct violation of our industry's code of ethics.
In future, we will never take another body out of a coffin before cremation for any reason, to ensure this never happens again on our watch. Dignity, respect and care have been the hallmarks of our business for the past eight years, and we are determined to learn from our mistakes while continuing to provide our services to the Rockhampton community.
Our deepest sympathies go to the Valigura family for the particularly difficult week they have had.
After apologising to them privately as well as publicly, we ask that their privacy now be respected by the media as they continue to mourn the passing of their beloved mother, grandmother, aunt and friend.
We would also like to add our voice to calls for tighter regulation of the funeral industry. This week we have made a $3,000 contribution to our industry association, the Independent Funeral Directors Association of Australia, to take the first steps towards making that regulation a reality."