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Mary Hassell: Chief coroner originally backed my burial policy

St Pancras coroner says she sought advice from her superior - and received approval - for her controversial policy

    The Adath Yisroel Burial Society (AYBS) has responded to Mary Hassell’s revelation that the Chief Coroner had previously described her controversial burial policy as “excellent”, despite condemning the protocol a fortnight ago.

    The AYBS called Ms Hassell’s comments “unedifying and hopeless”, noting that Judge Mark Lucraft, the Chief Coroner for England and Wales, had taken “advice from a specialist barrister”, after which he had adopted his current position.

    In the latest twist in the ongoing saga over religious burials, Ms Hassell, the senior coroner for Inner North London, submitted an addendum to the court last week ahead of the upcoming judicial review hearing of her policy that “no death will be prioritised in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family”.

    The addendum stated that, before communicating her burial protocol last October, she had sought advice from Judge Lucraft, who appeared to approve of her position.

    In his own comments to the judicial review a fortnight ago, Judge Lucraft called Ms Hassell’s policy “unlawful”, “discriminatory” and “incapable of rational justification”.

    However, in a response to Ms Hassell’s addendum, Judge Lucraft said he had misinterpreted the protocol when describing it as excellent.

    He repeated his comments, submitted to the court earlier this month, that “it is unlawful for a coroner to determine never to give a task greater urgency because of an express request, based on religious belief, for a body to be released for burial quickly”.

    He again confirmed that Ms Hassell’s protocol “is not rationally justifiable”.

    Ms Hassell had told the court: “If the Chief Coroner had told me that my approach was unlawful, then of course I would have reconsidered this immediately.”

    However, the AYBS described that as “hard to believe”.

    Trevor Asserson, the solicitor representing the AYBS, said Ms Hassell’s position was becoming “more untenable by the minute”.

    He also noted Ms Hassell’s statement that she had been subjected to bullying over the affair.

    “Ms Hassell calls us bullies for writing her letters,” he said.

    “This is a baseless and disgraceful allegation. If she were to comply with her legal obligations we would never have had to write her letters in the first place.”

    Rabbi Asher Gratt of the AYBS said: “The tone of the correspondence emerging from Ms Hassell, as well as her conduct, make us fear that she has no real interest in accommodating the deeply held religious beliefs of the Jewish and Muslim communities.

    “We are becoming increasingly concerned that bereaved families will continue to suffer - adding anguish and distress because of Ms Hassell’s rigid and inflexible policies.”

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