Funeral home accused of switching deluxe casket with cheap box

A funeral director accused of switching out a grandmother’s “gorgeous” $1700 coffin for a $70 pine box between the funeral and cremation has broken his silence.

The Rockhampton Morning Bulletin this week reported police were investigating Harts Family Funerals in Australia after the family of local woman Janice Cecilia Valigura made a fraud complaint.

After a requiem mass at St Mary’s Catholic Church for the 74-year-old, who died of a stroke on New Year’s Eve, the ornate casket lined with white silk was carried out by Valigura’s grandchildren for transportation to the crematorium — but family were told there would be a delay.

When the coffin arrived an hour late, a family friend saw the cheap box and realized something was wrong. “He knew the family would have gone to a huge effort to give Janice a respectful send-off and what she was put in was absolutely degrading to my aunty,” Valigura’s niece Kerry Rothery told the paper.

She then called the crematorium to postpone the cremation so she could see for herself. When she got there, she claimed she saw her aunt had been wrapped in plastic in the cheaper coffin, with personal letters — written by her grand­children and placed on her heart — tossed inside.

Rothery claimed the next day when they met the funeral director, Tony Hart, they were told the practice was “commonplace.”

Hart told The Courier-Mail on Thursday he performed the swap to prevent the expensive coffin cracking in the cold, as a delay at the crematorium meant Valigura’s coffin had to be returned to the freezer.

“The coffin she was cremated in was the same one that the family bought,” he said. He denied ever cremating someone in a different coffin to the one their family had paid for, or ever re-using a coffin.

The news was just the latest scandal to rock the $1.1 billion industry, which has long been accused of taking advantage of vulnerable people.

Timothy Button, founder of cut-price cremation business Just Cremate Me, on Thursday described the alleged coffin switch as “a new low.”

“That’s disgusting if that’s what the funeral directors are doing,” he said. “I don’t really sell expensive coffins, we use environmentally friendly cardboard caskets, but if there are any sharks in the industry doing that, that’s completely disgusting.”

Button said there was “no regulation at all” in the industry. “You’ve got industry professionals that form associations but there’s no…

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