Human ashes in funeral directors’ inquiry cannot be identified, say police

It is not possible to identify any of the cremated ashes at the centre of an investigation into a funeral directors, according to police who said this will be “devastating news for families and loved ones”.

Legacy Independent Funeral Directors has been under police investigation since officers recovered 35 bodies, as well as suspected human ashes, at its site on Hessle Road in Hull, earlier this year.

Humberside Police Assistant Chief Constable Thom McLoughlin gave an update to the inquiry on Thursday and said “extensive work”, in consultation with the local coroner and the affected families, is continuing to fully identify the 35 deceased.

He said: “This is a lengthy process that has to follow the coroner’s regulations but, when complete, will provide families with complete assurance as to the identity of their loved ones and repatriation with their families.”

Mr McLoughlin said more than 2,000 calls had been received on the investigation’s dedicated phone line and “of those a significant number were understandably concerned about the identification of the ashes of their loved ones”.

He went on: “We have been working closely with forensic scientists and specialists to assess whether it was possible to extract DNA from the human ashes in order to identify them.

“While the expert opinion provides us with an assurance that the proper crematorium process had been followed, unfortunately given the high temperature required to carry out a cremation the DNA will have broken down and degraded to such a level that we would not be able to recover a meaningful DNA profile.

“This means that we are unable to identify any of the human ashes.

“This will, of course, be devastating news for families and loved ones, and you have my heartfelt condolences at this difficult time.”

The officer told a press conference at a police station in North Ferriby, in East Yorkshire: “Our specially-trained family liaison officers continue to support and update the families of the 35 deceased and we have also been in touch with a number of families regarding the ashes recovered from the premises.

“In addition, we have had a significant number of calls that relate to suspected financial and fraudulent activity.

“I have dedicated specialist investigation teams carrying out numerous inquiries and following up on various leads and information.”

Since Humberside Police announced their investigation into the firm, families across Hull and East Yorkshire have been left questioning whether they have the ashes of their loved ones, with some saying they have been told they definitely have the wrong remains.

Mr McLoughlin said officers have been in contact with more than 700 families to update them regarding the latest scientific advice and offer support.

Legacy Independent Funeral Directors investigation
(left to right) Director of public health at Hull City Council Julia Weldon, Assistant Chief Constable Thom McLoughlin, and director of housing, transportation, and public protection at East Riding of Yorkshire Council Angela Dearing speak at a press conference (Danny Lawson/PA)

He said: “We must remember that at the core of this investigation are heartbroken, devastated families and loved ones.

“I recognise that this has been a difficult and distressing time for those involved, and there is no doubt that the impact has been felt across our communities.”

East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s director of housing, transportation and public protection Angela Dearing said public protection teams, along with partners from Hull City Council, have visited every funeral director operating in the local authorities’ areas.

Ms Dearing said: “Over three weeks we have visited 50 premises to review compliance with health and safety regulations, operational procedures and care of the deceased, and to offer support and advice to businesses.

“While the sector is not formally regulated nationally, the visits were an opportunity for us to look at a number of key areas of funeral directors’ business.

“It is very clear from our visits that the ongoing incident at Legacy Independent Funeral Directors is in no way typical of the funeral industry in our area.”

Police previously arrested a 46-year-old man and a 23-year-old woman on suspicion of prevention of a lawful and decent burial, fraud by false representation and fraud by abuse of position.

The pair remain on bail pending further inquiries.

Hull City Council’s director of public health and deputy chief executive Julia Weldon urged anyone affected and needing help to call a dedicated helpline on 0808 2811136.