A judge has turned down a family’s plea to exhume the ashes of their father so they could be scattered with those of his widow.

The couple’s children wanted to have their father's ashes removed from the plot they were buried in at Sheringham Cemetery, in 2003, so they could be scattered together with those of his wife, who died in March, along a route where they used to walk their dog.

However, their plea has been turned down by a judge of the Church of England’s Consistory Court which has to approve exhumations from consecrated ground.

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The strict policy of the church is that a last resting place should be just that and that exhumation should only be allowed if there are exceptional circumstances or there was a mistake when the person’s remains were buried.

In this case, David Etherington KC, chancellor of the Diocese of Norwich, ruled that there had been no mistake and there were no exceptional circumstances and refused consent for exhumation.

He said that after the father’s death at the age of 72  his ashes were buried in a plot at the cemetery which his wife had arranged and which had room for her ashes when her time came.

However, he had been told that in later years when it became more difficult for her to visit the cemetery, she decided she wanted her ashes to be scattered where they had walked their dog and had wished she had done that with her husband’s ashes.

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In the light of that the family had decided they would like her husband’s ashes to be scattered with hers.

However, the judge said there was a presumption that burial in consecrated ground was permanent in the absence of a mistake or exceptional circumstances.

He said he realised that his refusal of consent for exhumation would be distressing to the family but that in his view there was no basis in ecclesiastical law for permitting exhumation.

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He said: “Not only is burial in consecrated ground generally considered permanent and final, but many people would expect wherever they were buried to be their final resting place.

“This is really a classic ‘change of mind’ case and a change of mind is not a proper basis 
by itself for allowing an exhumation from consecrated ground.”