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Jewish burial society launches bid to take senior coroner Mary Hassell to court over ‘faith deaths’ row

PUBLISHED: 16:02 25 January 2018 | UPDATED: 16:02 25 January 2018

Mary Hassell is the senior coroner for inner north London coroners' court. Picture credit: Archant.

Mary Hassell is the senior coroner for inner north London coroners' court. Picture credit: Archant.

Archant

An Orthodox Jewish charity today applied to take senior north London coroner Mary Hassell to court over her controversial decision to stop prioritising religious burials.

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs has written to Ms Hasssell.  Picture: Mike Brooke.Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs has written to Ms Hasssell. Picture: Mike Brooke.

If successful, it will spark a judicial review that could see the move reversed. It comes as a string of high-profile politicians and faith leaders have called for her resignation.

Ms Hassell – whose remit covers Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Islington and Camden – has come under intense criticism in recent weeks from local Jewish and Muslim communities over the decision.

Yesterday, John Biggs, Tower Hamlets mayor, told the Advertiser he had written to her to express his concern about the loss of confidence in her services following her controversial decision.

In the letter Mr Biggs also slammed Ms Hassell for making the ‘insensitive and discriminatory’ decision which ‘ignored the needs’ of both religious communities.

Under Jewish and Islamic law, bodies must be buried on the day of death or as soon as possible afterwards. Both faiths also view invasive post-mortems as desecration, preferring CT body scans.

Relations between the coroner’s office and faith representatives broke down in October over a decision by Ms Hassell to withdraw special burial arrangements that were struck three years ago.

The application is being brought by the Adath Yisroel Burial Society (AYBS) in Stamford Hill, and is supported by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who have called for Ms Hassell to be removed from office, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.

Rabbi Asher Gratt of the AYBS, bringing the claim, said: “Mary Hassell’s conduct is having a devastating effect on members of the Jewish and Muslim Communities who are being put through great anguish by her – suffering the distress of not being permitted to bury their loved ones in the dignity they deserve according to our tradition and belief.

“She has alienated the communities she is meant to serve and we are left with no option but to seek that she be transferred to a less diverse area.”

Ms Hassell had previously said that no death will be prioritised on religious grounds.

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