Queensland funeral industry remains under a dark cloud
A PROSERPINE-based funeral director's campaign to expose the failings of the Queensland funeral industry gained creditability last week after an investigation was launched into a coffin switch in Rockhampton.
Still his scathing condemnation of human remains transport systems, the awarding of state coroner contracts and calls for a shake up of the industry have so far gone unheeded.
The Department of Justice and Attorney-General have refused to be drawn on the controversy or the claim by Jeff Boyle that human remains are cremated enmasse and divided up before being returned to the family of the deceased.
Mr Boyle's brother, Neville Boyle, the operator of Burdekin Funerals, made a complaint to the Coroners Court of Queensland in 2017 claiming ashes at a Townsville crematorium are being "thrown away".
A response from executive manager of the Coroners Court of Queensland, Marcus Leonard, said the department couldn't investigate such claims because they "do not pertain to cremations performed under the Burials Assistance Scheme".
Supporting the case for misconduct at Queensland crematoriums, Mr Boyle used the example of a "larger woman" cremated in 2016 who was returned to her family in one plastic box.
When inquiring with the crematorium Mr Boyle asked "how can you fit all of those ashes in one container?"
To which the crematorium staff replied "we separate the ashes, it's easy we do it all the time".
Since 2010 Jeff Boyle has been making complaints about about the decomposition of human remains on long-haul road trips, the condition in which human remains return to Proserpine for burial after autopsy and the flouting of laws that forbid touting under the Burials Assistance Act.
He has made a submission to the Crime and Corruption Commission, complained to the Queensland Ombudsman and under the Freedom of Information Act requested information on the fees paid to companies transporting human remains requiring autopsies.
But what he describes as "illegal practices" continue in an "unregulated industry".
Mr Boyle's company Whitsunday Funerals and Crematorium has the contract to transport human remains requiring a coroner's examination in the Whitsundays, but in protest of the industry's lack of regulation has withdrawn from coronial work in the Whitsundays when the contact expires on February 1.
Typically, an autopsy is required if a person dies unexpectedly or in a public place.
Mr Boyle said human remains in the southern Whitsunday region travel south to Rockhampton for post mortem examination.
"The mortuaries are treating the bodies like they are a piece of meat on a slab. They are not washing them, they are not cleaning them. They are sending them back with their legs facing the wrong way after the autopsy," he said.
"They are not even taking their clothes off, which is in total breach of the act."
The multi-million dollar mortuary attached to the Mackay Hospital has never been used because there is not enough pathologists to staff it, according to Mr Boyle.
Executive Director Operations Mackay, Mackay Hospital and Health Service, Paul Welford, disputed claims the Mackay morgue has never been used but conceded it is not used for coronal investigations.
"The primary role of the mortuary is to manage bodies of deceased people prior to burial," he said. This includes body lodgement, storage, body viewing if required and release to appropriate funeral directors," he said.
"The facility has not been used for any other purpose. Coronal autopsies are conducted in Rockhampton and Townsville."
Carol Phillips of Serene Funerals in Sarina has 30 years' experience in the industry and in December last year won the contract for coronal human remains transfer in the north Mackay region.
Ms Phillips said the coroner's office was short staffed and suggested this is the reason coronal autopsies are not conducted in Mackay.
"It's something I never thought would happen and it is a concern," she said.
"The Corner's job is to find out the cause of death and there are instances where badly damaged and it's best to not do what they do but it's the funeral home's job to prepare the body for a viewing not the coroner's job."
Ms Phillips said her company used refrigerated transport systems, don't transport human remains in branded vehicles or use branded body bags and they don't promote funeral services to relatives of the deceased.
The owner of Serene Funerals wouldn't disclose how much the Queensland Government pays the business to transport human remains but said it was "enough to cover costs".
The use of refrigerated vehicles is not mandated by the Burial Act, but is requirement to be a member of National Funeral Directors Association whose membership is voluntary.
Mr Boyle, in an email to director of the State Coroner Office, Brigita White, in 2011 described a case which involved human remains arriving back from a post mortem examination in a state of decomposition and smelling foul.
"A green face is not a good look," he wrote.
Ms White responded to Mr Boyle's email by "agree(ing) it was a concern".
She added the Office of the State Coroner was "in discussions" with the company involved and "hope to find a resolution to this issue in the very near future".
Mr Boyle has suggested some companies winning tenders for human remains transport to and from the coroner morgue in Rockhampton, Hervey Bay and Gold Coast are being paid one cent.
"In doing this it gives them a chance to have an advertising advantage over every other company, which is illegal and breaches the Fair Trading Act," Mr Boyle said.
"They cold canvass the families and then rip them off."
A woman from Cannonvale, who preferred not to be named, said she felt the company that tried to handle her mother's death "preyed" on vulnerable families during emotional times and "took advantage of them".
"It's so wrong they were wanting to sign mum's body over then and there (at the hospital) - here's a piece of paper, $1,700 please sign this to transfer the body to the morgue," she said.
She also claimed the company transferred her mother's body to the autopsy in a non-refrigerated van.
"There's no respect for those who have passed," she said.
"They aren't looking after the best interests of those that are left behind, they just see the dollar signs."
The Department of Justice and Attorney-General responded to claims against the funeral industry by stating the body "operate(s) under strict, transparent guidelines for the benefit of the community".
"Strict conditions govern the operation of government contracts. Any substantiated breaches of these contracts or inappropriate practices, such as those mentioned, are acted upon accordingly," a spokesperson said.
"The operation of the Coroners Court, including the delivery of autopsy services, is carried out in accordance with relevant legislation, ethical standards and policy and procedures."