'I feel strongly for families going through it now': Bereaved son calls for Wakefield Council to relax mourners limit at Pontefract Crematorium
A bereaved son has called for local limits on funeral mourners to be relaxed, saying the current rules are a "smack in the face" for families.
Mike Johnson, from Castleford, wants Wakefield Council to lift its cap of 30 on those attending services at Pontefract Crematorium.
Mr Johnson's father Joe passed away last month, with his funeral service taking place at the crematorium on June 4.
The council originally said only 20 people could attend the funeral, but then agreed to lift the quota to 30 following an appeal by Mr Johnson, who was supported by local MP Yvette Cooper.
Services at Wakefield Crematorium can now have 26 in attendance.
Changes to restrictions on May 17 meant councils were able to set their own cap on mourners at crematoria, based on the size and layout of a venue.
Mr Johnson is now campaigning for the local authority to relax the rules further however, insisting the limit is "out of kilter" with the numbers pubs and restaurants can serve indoors.
Wakefield Council said its policy was in line with other West Yorkshire authorities and Public Health England advice.
Mr Johnson, who has a background in risk management and health and safety, believes up to 44 people could be safely accommodated inside Pontefract Crematorium.
Mr Johnson, 47, said: "Having been through this myself, I feel really strongly for those families who are still having to go through it now.
"I think it's wrong that they can't have more people there.
"What really angers, frustrates and disappoints me is that every pub in the country will be shoehorning as many people as they can, within the rules and in groups of six, in for the England games at the Euros.
"Yet at Pontefract Creamtorium there’s people who can’t get in to say 'goodbye' to their loved ones. That’s a real smack in the face.
"I've no problem with the pubs being open. After a year-and-a-half and everything we've been through, it's really welcome.
"But ultimately you can watch the game at home on telly if you have to. You can’t have another funeral at home or say another goodbye to your loved one.
"I just think the council are being over-cautious and it’s out of kilter with the rest of society."
Mr Johnson said he'd put a detailed proposal forward to the council suggesting how a 44 person-limit at the venue could be safely enforced, but had not received an adequate explanation as to why they would not adopt it.
He added: "I’m not suggesting for one second they should allow standing room or go back to exactly the way things were pre-pandemic.
"But I just think Wakefield Council have an opportunity to make a difference and to actually think about what they’re doing, and help families that are in a really difficult situation."
Asked for a response to Mr Johnson's comments, Glynn Humphries, the council's service director for communities, said: "We understand that the loss of a loved one is always a very difficult time for those who have been bereaved - and is especially challenging during a global pandemic.
"We offer them our sincere sympathies at their time of loss.
"The health and safety of everyone attending our crematoria is our priority. We are focused on managing our services in a Covid-secure way and regularly review our arrangements in line with national guidance.
"Our crematoria are evaluated individually on the amount of space available to keep mourners and staff safe and socially distanced.
"Our approach on mourner numbers is in line with other West Yorkshire authorities and Public Health England advice.
“Further to Mr Johnson contacting us, we are looking into the concerns he’s raised and we will be providing him with a full response to the findings.”
Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper said she'd asked the council to keep its policy under review.
She said: "Covid has made everything incredibly difficult, but those who lost loved ones have faced a double heartbreak of not always being able to say goodbye in the way they might have wanted.
"When Mr Johnson contacted me, some of the restrictions around funerals had been changed, enabling more people to attend, but the new rules were being implemented differently in different places.
"I’m glad that Wakefield Council then looked at their rules again to allow more people to attend Pontefract Crematorium.
"But it is still very difficult for families and this is such a sensitive issue, so I have asked the council to keep reviewing this especially as the restrictions lift so that as many family and friends as are safely possible can be there to mourn their loved ones."
Local Democracy Reporting Service