Family wins right to exhume woman’s body from church graveyard because she was an atheist

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The body of a grandmother killed in a car crash will be exhumed from a churchyard after an appeal by her family.

Gwendolen Crow, 58, was buried at a village church in Surrey nearly 20 years ago.

The arrangement was made by a family friend but relatives later realised it was inappropriate as she was an atheist.

The Church of England’s Consistory Court has now ruled her remains can be exhumed so she can be cremated and her ashes spread on non-consecrated ground.

It is an unusual departure from strict church rules, which say ‘burial of a body in a consecrated churchyard is final’.

A judge said the Crow family’s case was ‘tragic and remarkable’ and the special circumstances justified an exhumation.

Mrs Crow, pictured, known as Gwennie, was driving to see her pregnant daughter Justine on January 10, 2000, when she hit black ice and slid into a ditch. She was hit by another car and died.

While Mrs Crow’s husband William and daughters were ‘in a state of shock’, family friend Simon Ebsor took over and arranged a funeral at the Church of St Nicholas, in Charlwood. Her daughter Rebecca assumed that her father had asked for the funeral.

The court was told that three of Mrs Crow’s daughters found it ‘increasingly disturbing’ to visit the grave. Another sister had never seen it.

Rebecca Crow, 55, said her mother was not a Christian and the family were not brought up as Christians. ‘It was therefore some surprise to us that she would be buried in a churchyard and most particularly in consecrated ground,’ Miss Crow said. She added: ‘None of us had any idea what her real wishes were.’

Mrs Crow’s husband remarried after the accident and now lives in Suffolk. ‘He has no understanding as to why our mother was actually laid there,’ Miss Crow said.

Deputy Chancellor Morag Ellis ruled there had been a ‘fundamental mistake of intention’ over the burial and ‘the fact is that the wrong decision was made’.

 

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