The fault meant that funeral home staff were met with bodily fluids on the floor to clean up when they arrived for work on Monday, August 1. Ashton Funeral Service, parts of Dignity Funerals, in Brixton was looking after Uriah Pryce’s body and due to the fault – which caused seven bodies to start to decompose – it is now offering the family a free funeral service and will waive all of its £8,500 costs.
Zayed Martin, from Brixton, said the faulty fridge meant her grandad’s body has completely deteriorated in the hot weather and started to decompose which has made the planned open-casket funeral impossible.
Speaking to MyLondon, the family claim they were told they are no longer be able to visit him, embalm him, dress him or have an open-casket funeral as hoped for. This is because his body has suffered from skin slip – a part of the decomposition process when the top layers of skin become disconnected from the body.
Mr Pryce died of natural causes at the age of 81 on July 1. Zayed, 22, told MyLondon: “We are all absolutely devastated and upset. We are such a close family and we didn’t need this on top of dealing with the grief. We’ve been advised not to see grandad and not to have an open-casket funeral. We are only allowed to place clothes on top of him and slip photographs inside the coffin.
“It’s horrible to think about your family members like this. And his dignity. We are so unhappy about this; it was meant to be our last goodbye. They’ve stripped us of that right. We trusted them and the trust is broken.”
The family, who are of Jamaican heritage, say being able to dress him and have an open casket are important in their culture and not being able to do that will be a huge blow. The funeral home said they cannot see the body even if they wanted to because a chemical powder has been put on him to stop further deterioration of the body, which is harmful to breathe in.
Zayed claims Ashton Funeral Service took two days to contact the family to explain what had happened. Initially, they apologised and offered to take £578 off the family’s bill, given embalming can no longer take place, but Zayed said it just “wasn’t good enough”.
She added: “It is not acceptable. They should have some standard regulations where the fridges are being checked, some backup procedures.”
Ashton Funeral Service staff told the family that the fridge was checked on Friday evening (July 29) but because no one works at the weekend, nobody noticed a fault that caused the fridge to switch off. While there were around 60 other fridges at the funeral home, only one was affected. However there were an estimated seven other bodies in the same fridge and therefore seven other families affected, Zayed added.
Zayed lived with her grandad Uriah in Brixton to care for him in his final years. She said, along with her mum, she was there for him “every day, every minute” tending to his needs and that the small, but close, family are finding it difficult to come to terms with what has happened.
Dignity Funerals manages more than 650 funeral directors at different locations across England, 66 of which are in London. Since MyLondon contacted Dignity Funerals for comment, they have offered the family a free funeral service and will waive all costs – which were due to be £8,500.
A spokesperson for Dignity Funerals said: “We are wholeheartedly sorry for the distress and upset this has caused, and we have directly apologised to each of the seven families affected. Caring for deceased persons in a professional and respectful manner is at the core of everything we do.
“We accept that in this instance due to a fault with our equipment we have fallen far short of the standards we strive for, and that our clients rightly expect. We continue to provide each family with support to ensure the funerals can be held in a dignified and meaningful way, and we will provide full reimbursement for all related costs.
“Arrangements have been made to continue to care for the deceased at another local dignity mortuary that is operating to our usual high standards. We are now investigating internally the cause of the fault and will be ensuring robust measures are put in place to ensure this does not occur again.”