A funeral director criticised by a coroner for “undermining mortuary procedures” is now the focus of a police investigation, it was revealed last night.
Evidence given by Tony Clarke during an inquest last month was labelled “unreliable” after it emerged he had wrongly told the family of the late Pauline Kent, who died of breast cancer, that her body was infected.
Coroner Derek Winter said the 50-year-old businessman had “undermined the integrity of the death certificate and mortuary procedures”. And Pauline’s daughter, Tina, claimed his chapel of rest on Railway Terrace, Sunderland, was a “derelict flower shop” still under construction when Mr Clarke was arranging her mother’s funeral.
He denied the claim saying construction work had been completed well before he collected Mrs Kent’s body from the mortuary.
It is understood detectives attended the inquest at Sunderland’s Civic Centre last month and have since been contacted by members of the public.
Now officers from Northumbria Police have confirmed they have launched an investigation to discover if a criminal offence has been committed.
A spokesman said: “Police have received a number of reports relating to possible theft or fraud offences involving a 50-year-old man. Inquiries are ongoing to establish if any offences have been committed.”
Mrs Kent, from Rutherglen Road, Sunderland, was given “end of life care” after medics were unable to treat her breast cancer. She died on January 2.
After a doctor issued a death certificate confirming the 58-year-old had died from cancer, Mr Clarke was called to collect the body and take it to his parlour on Railway Terrace, Sunderland.
Tina had expressed a wish to see her mother in the chapel of rest on her birthday, January 11.
But Mr Clarke said the body was infected and and urged family members to seal the coffin without the opportunity to pay their last respects.
Mr Clarke claimed he had been unable to correctly read paperwork and had sought advice from solicitors and embalmers. But mortuary workers said there had been no infection and Tina’s barrister told the inquest Mr Clarke had thrown-up a “red-herring” to “muddy the waters”.
Coroner Winter also said Mr Clarke’s actions had “been contrary to the principles enunciated in the Public Inquiry into the Identification of Victims following Major Transport Disasters in 2001”.
That ruling followed the 1989 Marchioness Riverboat Disaster. Following a public inquiry Lord Justice Clarke said it was imperative grieving relatives should have the right to view their loved ones’ bodies.
When The Journal contacted Mr Clarke he declined to comment, saying: “I’ve been advised by my solicitor that I can’t speak.” Of the police investigation, he added: “I don’t know anything about it and the police have not spoken to me.” Efforts were made to contact Mr Clarke’s legal team but they failed to respond.