A bereaved family say they are “relieved” after York Council backtracked on its decision to ban grieving relatives from funerals.
The council previously said only “direct cremations” would take place, with mourners unable to attend and “no exceptions”, due to fears the ceremonies could spread coronavirus.
Following an online petition signed by over 4,000 supporters and backlash from York Central MP Rachael Maskell, the council said it would allow up to 10 close family members to attend a 10-minute service and committal outside the crematorium.
Kelsey Dobson, who set up the petition after her uncle passed away, told Sky News her family are “absolutely relieved to be able to say their final goodbyes and give my uncle the final journey that he truly deserved”.
However, Labour MP Ms Maskell has argued the decision still did not go far enough, saying: “To stipulate that a service should only take 10 minutes does not acknowledge the needs of families to say their final goodbyes in those precious moments together with words, prayers, a eulogy, music or song or even silence.
“There is no safety reason why a family should have such limitations placed on them and I would ask the council again to remove such unnecessary restrictions and allow families the time and space they need.”
Ms Dobson’s uncle, Colin Dean, was a 61-year-old army veteran who had passed away from a non-coronavirus-related condition.
His wife and children were initially told they would not be able to attend his funeral.
Ms Dobson said: “To think that families would be denied access to the crematorium and would have to remain at home while their loved one went on that final journey and the body was committed with no family member there, it was appalling.
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“My auntie, she was married to my uncle for over 42 years and they’ve got two children together and it was a very sudden and unexpected loss.
“I don’t think she’s even accepted that he’s gone because for the past week we’ve had to battle with York Council just for her to be able to go and say goodbye.”
Mr Dean was described by his loved ones as a “family man” with an “infectious personality” and the “biggest heart”.
Ms Dobson said her family were “by no means asking for a funeral of the usual size” and respected social distancing measures.
According to guidance from Public Health England, mourners must keep two metres apart at funerals and only members of the same household or close family should attend.
On Saturday, York Council said families could go to the crematorium but would have to wait outside while a service took place in the chapel.
The updated plans mean family members can attend a short service outside under cover, and the celebrant or minister can also give a 10-minute service inside the chapel which families will be given a video of free of charge.
Ms Dobson claims she was “misinformed” about this on Tuesday night by Ian Floyd, interim head of paid services at York Council, who allegedly said there had been no change from Saturday’s decision.
She said her family had been left upset and “in tears” following the phone call.
In an email seen by Sky News, Mr Floyd said: “I felt I explained what is a very difficult situation in accordance with the letter sent, and the further steps we were taken and the options available. However clearly you feel this was not fully explained and please accept my apologies for that.”
Cllr Keith Aspden, leader of City of York Council, said: “With confirmation of these arrangements and how they will be implemented, we hope that moving forward, they will bring some much needed comfort to grieving families at what is an exceptionally difficult time for them.
“This exceptional decision has been taken to limit the spread of coronavirus and therefore, protect the public, the city’s funeral directors and our bereavement services staff.
“We have a very small skilled team at the crematorium and if they became infected, we would have a further public health risk in not being able to undertake cremations at all.”