Board of Deputies intervenes as family of Jewish man plead for coroner to release his body

Family of respected Orthodox educator Bobby Hill want Inner North London coroner Mary Hassell to release his body for burial


A London coroner who has previously clashed with the Jewish community over burials is at the centre of a new row.

The family of Bobby Hill, a highly respected Orthodox Jewish educator who died in hospital in London on Monday, are desperate for his body to be released for burial by the senior coroner for Inner North London, Mary Hassell.

Now the president of the Board of Deputies Marie van der Zyl has written to the Chief Coroner Mark Lucraft, asking him to intervene.

Two years ago the High Court ruled Ms Hassell had acted unlawfully in being unwilling to give priority to religious families who sought the speedy release of their relatives’ bodies in a case brought by the Adath Yisroel Burial Society (AIBS).

Mrs van der Zyl told the Chief Coroner that following the court case, “the poor nature of Ms Hassell’s service to the Jewish community was apparently somewhat ameliorated. However, we now find ourselves yet again in the position of finding ways to comfort an already grieving family, whose distress has been exacerbated by Ms Hassell’s conduct.”

Mr Hill, who was 74 and once held a senior position in the United Synagogue Board of Religious Education, is understood to have died while receiving treatment for cancer.

Ms van der Zyl said, “Ms Hassell has indicated that Mr Hill’s report of death will be given a priority position, but given no fixed indication of when the case may be dealt with”.

The coroner “blamed the delay on being short-staffed and the increased workload of during the pandemic,” the Board president wrote.

She said the day after Mr Hill’s death,  the family visited Ms Hassell’s office to request priority action and offer assistance to speed up the process. Despite their waiting in the office for the whole day, it appears that Ms Hassell did not even show them the courtesy of meeting them.

“Whilst on the one hand, we are obviously sympathetic to the increased pressures across the service caused by the pandemic, it should be noted that the Jewish community has not experienced these problems in any other area of the country, including in areas of high Jewish population, such as Outer North London and Manchester.”

The Board had been told that the local authority consortium which funds Ms Hassell’s office had provided three additional staff.

“The coronavirus pandemic is an anxious time for us all. There is data that has shown BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] groups to be disproportionately affected by the virus,” Mrs van der Zyl said.

“Initial data shows Jewish deaths are overrepresented by two to three-fold among all Covid-19 deaths. Jewish families have, quite rightly, made serious amends to how they conduct funerals and the traditional shiva mourning process, but such changes have brought additional distress.

“That mourners cannot be certain of burying their loved one in a timely fashion if they die in Inner North London is an unnecessary additional burden, which should simply not be presented by a professional, empathetic service.”

The JC contacted Ms Hassell’s office earlier on Thursday to ask when Mr Hill’s might be released.

Rabbi Asher Gratt of the AIBS said, "It is important to once again stress that every coroner we are dealing with goes out of their way - especially in these difficult times - to show compassion and understanding, whereas Ms Hassell’s rigid conduct is inflicting so much added pain and sufferings on grieving families."

Trevor Asserson, senior partner at Asserson Law Offices which has acted in legal cases against Ms Hassell, said she her decsions had been challenged in court at least three times.

"She now appears to be getting the law wrong yet again, failing to explain why she won’t give priority to a case that she accepts requires priority under the Equality Act," he said. "If she is as clueless about the law as she appears, then she is a disgrace to the service, and a menace to society.”


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive