Midcounties Co-operative Funeralcare has come under scrutiny following allegations by The Sun newspaper that coffins containing bodies were kept in a corridor next to an old bike and a Christmas tree.
The society is the largest regional co-operative in the UK and runs 77 funeral homes across the West Midlands, Oxfordshire, Swindon and Gloucestershire.
Quoting an unnamed source, The Sun claims that a corridor in Midcounties’ Walsall funeral home where coffins are stored has a hole in the ceiling and is mouldy. The newspaper also said it has handed over a dossier of evidence to the National Association of Funeral Directors, which has started an investigation into the claims.
“Firstly I’d like to apologise for any distress caused by this story to our members and customers,” said Ben Reid, chief executive of Midcounties Co-operative, speaking to Co-operative News.
Mr Reid said the customer quoted in The Sun’s story had given full marks in feedback to the funeral home for its service, but was subsequently cold-called by the newspaper and “dragged into” a distressing situation.
“I spoke to the customer first thing this morning,” said Mr Reid. “It appears that this is an ex-employee who has taken photos and fed a customer’s detail to The Sun. That breach of data will be investigated to the full.”
Mr Reid added that after being alerted to The Sun’s story, he visited the Walsall funeral home early on Wednesday morning, prior to staff arrival, and saw no issues that would cause him concern if he had a loved one in the home’s care.
Any issues were not about care of the deceased, but more about interior standards, he said.
“Could we refresh it? Yes we could. Could it do with a lick of paint? Yes it could. Do I think that the people we are caring for are being disrespected in any way? No I do not.”
He added: “The picture that The Sun claims is a corridor is actually a chapel of rest that is currently surplus to requirements.”
Mr Reid added that there was no certainty the two coffins in The Sun’s picture were occupied, but that it was more likely they were being stored there prior to use.
But he confirmed that there would be “a full investigation” as to why a bike and Christmas trees were being stored in the chapel, which would be dealt with through Midcounties’ internal procedures.
Alongside funeral care, the Midcounties family of businesses includes retail, travel, childcare and energy, and last summer was announced as the winner of the 2015 Co-operative of the Year award by Co-operatives UK.