Widow blocked from moving late husband’s remains from south Norfolk grave

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A widow has been denied the opportunity to move her late husband’s remains from a south Norfolk village grave to be buried closer to her home in Northern Ireland after a ruling from a Church of England judge.

Joan Burns wanted to have the remains of her late husband, Dr Stewart Andrew Burns, who was buried in 2009, to be exhumed and moved from St Peter’s church yard in Forncett St Peter to the church yard of St Patrick and St Bridget, in Ballycastle, Co Antrim.

Ruth Arlow, Chancellor of the Diocese of Norwich and a judge of the Church’s Consistory Court, said there had to be “special reasons” to justify moving the body.

She explained that since her husband’s death, Mrs Burns and her daughter had to move to Northern Ireland to be closer to her family.

“This has inevitably meant that they are no longer able to visit and tend to Dr Burns’ grave, save for on occasional and very costly visits to Norfolk,” she said.

“They understandably miss their visits to the graveside and Mrs Burns has found it so distressing that she has attended her doctor and been prescribed anti-depressant medication.

“I know that Mrs Burns and her daughter will be disappointed by this decision but I am unable to find a proper justification for this exhumation.”

In her judgment she said under Church law the permanent burial of a body or cremated remains “should be seen as a symbol of our entrusting the person to God for resurrection.”

She continued: “I know that Mrs Burns has been prescribed anti-depressant medication as a result of the stress and distress she has been experiencing given her present circumstances. But I cannot see that this amounts to a ‘serious psychiatric or psychological problem where medical evidence demonstrates a link between that medical condition and the question of location of the grave’.”