Jewish leaders call for removal of London coroner over delayed Jewish burials

A view of the St. Pancras Coroner’s court in London. (Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

A view of the St. Pancras Coroner’s court in London. (Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) – Jewish leaders called for the removal of a London coroner over delayed Jewish burials following a private meeting with her.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews met with Mary Hassell, the senior coroner at the St. Pancras Coroner’s Office in central London, after she told Jewish leaders in a letter that “no death will be prioritized in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family.”

Hassell’s jurisdiction covers the largest concentration of haredi Orthodox Jews in Europe and the United Kingdom’s biggest Muslim community, according to the London-based daily The Guardian.

According to both Jewish and Islamic law, bodies of the deceased must be buried as soon as possible after death, ideally on the same day.

At the meeting Friday with Hassell, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Adath Yisrael Burial Society attempted to persuade the coroner to withdraw the new directive, as well as a second that prevents the bodies from having shemirah, in which fellow Jews tend to the body around the clock until their burials.

The groups told the local media that Hassell showed little interest in addressing the Jewish community’s concerns during the meeting.

“The early release of bodies for those families who want it – including Jewish families – is a fulfillment of the basic human rights of family life and religious practice,” said Marie Van Der Zyl, the board’s vice president.

“Not only is Ms. Hassell failing to respect those rights, but she shows no inclination to do so. She has lost the confidence of the Jewish community, and appears to have no interest in winning it back.”

The board said it plans to turn to David Gauke, the lord chancellor and justice secretary, and Lord Burnett, the lord chief justice, to request Hassell’s removal from her position.

The London-based Jewish Chronicle reported last month that one woman made 210 phone calls to the St. Pancras Coroner’s Office before being assured that her father would be buried four days after his death. Another family was told it would have to wait two weeks for an autopsy to be performed before a funeral could be held.

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