How to Catch a Lobster: BBC show The Coroner

words: Paul Allcock, SAIF Vice President and Public Relations Officer

How to Catch a Lobster: This was the title given to episode two of The Coroner, a BBC daytime drama based in Devon and shown on TV last month. The episode centred on the coroner’s investigation into bodies which had washed up on the shore, and that the coroner thought could have been burials at sea in the weeks or months previous.

Like most, if not all dramatisations, there was the usual artistic license, with the coroner attending the scene during the discovery and carrying out the investigation alongside the police.

Nonetheless, there were some very interesting scenes in this episode that I’m sure we can all relate to, and learn from. The first of these was a local meeting of Devon area funeral directors, that the coroner attended. It was interesting to see that they had only four funeral directors attending. Perhaps the researchers for the programme had witnessed the apathy which is often shown by funeral directors in attending meetings of this kind, unless there is something which affects their business directly.

The SAIF regional meetings are aimed to address matters which affect each of us and to keep members up to date with legislation. This, together with an opportunity to meet socially and discuss local matters, is why I would encourage all of our members to attend as many meetings as possible.

In the meeting the coroner attended, he suggested that for all burials at sea the body should have a DNA test so that, if washed up on shore, it could be easily identified. She was also asking the funeral directors to pay for this procedure.

As it was the coroner requesting it, the funeral directors suggested that it should be the coroner paying. If they paid, they would have to pass the cost onto their client. Rightly in my opinion, they felt this was unfair. As is often the case, no decision was made.

Once personally involved in arranging a burial at sea, I remember the specific choice of placing and weighting to avoid letting the body move towards any shoreline or trawler. In wondering how these bodies could have been washed up, my first thought was that perhaps the burial sites allocated now are simply too close to shore. Compared to the roughly 20 miles I went out on that occasion, one report has suggested that burials off the Needles are only 2.8km from the shore. Perhaps there is a need to review these rules.

While the fault in these cases can be debated, one thing little mentioned in the news or on the programme was the families’ distress. What it does emphasis though is how important it is that the funeral director perform every aspect perfectly whenever our services are called on.

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