Board of Deputies to meet Mary Hassell for talk over burials row

Board's vice president and a representative of the Charedi community to meet with the senior coroner on Friday


The Board of Deputies is to hold talks with Mary Hassell, the senior coroner who is at the centre of a storm over failing to respect Jewish burial requirements.

Marie Van Der Zyl, vice-president of the Board, is due to meet Ms Hassell this Friday, accompanied by Mr Sidney Sinitsky of the Adath Yisroel Burial Society (AYBS).

“We are going to put our concerns very robustly and very clearly, because there is no doubt in our minds that Jewish burials can be accommodated,” Ms Van Der Zyl told the Board’s monthly meeting on Sunday.

Ms Hassell, who has held her position at St Pancras coroners court since 2013, has a history of disagreements with the Jewish community, particularly the strictly Orthodox community in the borough of Hackney, an area of London that comes under her jurisdiction.

Last October she informed a Jewish burial society that “no death will be prioritised in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family”. She also said that she would be revoking a 2015 protocol on the guarding of bodies, which allowed Orthodox Jews to observe shemirah – “guarding” the deceased prior to burial.

The burial society has launched an official complaint against Ms Hassell.

Ms Van Der Zyl said her meeting  would be “a case where the Board is going to be advocating for the whole community”.

“It’s not just an Orthodox issue, it’s a Jewish issue. We’ve had meetings at the Board of Deputies with Charedim, and I have also consulted both Liberal and Reform denominations.”

She described Ms Hassell as “a person, in my opinion, who has no compassion or any sort of empathy with faith communities.

“As Jews, we are not asking for priority. We are putting a position forward that anybody who requires a swift burial be given the same treatment.”

Ms Van der Zyl told the Board that the Jewish Labour peer, Lord Beecham, had asked a question in the House of Lords about the government’s response to the issue.

St Pancras coroner’s court told the JC Ms Hassell was unable to comment on the controversy “as it is incompatible with her judicial role”.  

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