UK police say Sikh funeral pyre may have broken cremation laws

Police are investigating what is claimed to be the first British religious funeral pyre in modern times, because they believe the blaze many have broken cremation laws which prohibit the burning of human remains in the open air.

Yesterday’s pyre in Stamfordham, Northumberland, was arranged after Rajpal Mehat, a 31-year-old Indian-born Sikh, drowned in a canal in Southall, west London, last December. His family asked Davender Ghai, president of the Newcastle-based Anglo-Asian Friendship Society, to help after authorities refused to allow his remains to be flown back to India.

Mr Ghai, who is a leading campaigner for funeral pyres to be held in Britain, claims that the 1930 Cremation Act does not forbid such ceremonies, and that the legislation is concerned only with the day-to-day running of crematoriums.

He said he had carried out the ceremony with the “blessing” of the Northumbria police, only to be told later that he had broken the law. “The police came down here and at first they stopped the cars,” he said. “Then the officer said he had been in touch with the chief constable and said ‘Yes, you can go ahead with the funeral pyre, according to your religion’.” Mr Ghai added the family had not wanted Mr Mehat’s soul to remain “restless” for so long after his death.

Northumbria police said last night that although they had allowed the ceremony to go ahead, they believed offences may have been committed.

“In respecting the values and beliefs of all faiths we did not wish to cause any additional upset to a grieving family,” said Superintendent Graham Smith. “This meant all our inquiries were carried out in an extremely sensitive manner before the service got under way. Following further investigation, we believe offences may have been committed under the Cremation Act 1902 in relation to where human remains can legally be cremated.”

A spokesman for the Department of Constitutional Affairs said: “The 1930 Cremation Act prohibits the cremation of human remains anywhere except in a crematorium.”

Mr Ghai said: “We have got so many supporters, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Guardian, UK
July 13, 2006
Sam Jones

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