Losing a loved one is one of the most devastating experiences a family will go through. And to cheat a family who is grieving is one of the cruellest acts imaginable.

But this appears to be what happened to the family of Janice Cecilia Valigura in Rockhaptoms.

Ms Valigura’s died on New Year’s Eve from a stroke, and her funeral service was last Monday.

However, it’s been alleged that the funeral home switched Valigura’s $1700 procession coffin for a $70 pine casket for her cremation.

Police yesterday raided Harts Family Funerals, the Queensland funeral home in question.

It’s reported that there were delays between the body being moved from the church to the crematorium – which was when it was discovered that her coffin had been replaced.

Ms Valigura’s family had purchased an oak coffin fitted with silk linings.

“The family would have gone to a huge effort to give Janice a respectful send-off and what she was put in was absolutely degrading to my aunty,” Ms Valigura’s niece and goddaughter, Kerry Rothery, told The Courier Mail.

Rothery was the one to go to the crematorium to find her aunt in the pine box.

Ms Valigura was also found wrapped in plastic inside the box, and the personal letters, written by her grand­children and placed on her heart, had been thrown away.

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The Funeral Home’s Response

Harts Family Funerals owner, Tony Hart, told The Courier-Mail they transferred Ms Valigura’s body into a pine coffin to save the more expensive coffin from cracking.

“The coffin she was cremated in was the same one that the family bought,” he said.

He says that Ms Valigura’s coffin had to be returned to a freezer before the cremation as the change of temperature would have cracked the $ heavily lacquered coffin. So for this reason, it was put in a transfer shell.

Mr Hart has said that he has never done what has been accused,  and has never re-used a coffin.

He also denied ever cremating someone in a different coffin to the one their family had paid for.

Pending Investigation

Detective Sergeant Craig Strohfeldt told the media that “in my experience, I’ve never received a complaint of this nature. It is quite unusual.”

“Detectives from the Rockhampton criminal investigation branch are investigating an alleged fraud complaint that was made to police on the ninth of January and involves a local funeral company,” he said.

“It is quite a serious matter and we’re putting a lot of resources into the investigation.

“It’s only been alleged at this stage but if the investigations do prove that an offence has been committed then it is a shocking thing.”

Call for Better Regulation in the Funeral Industry

In Queensland, where this incident occurred, there is no legislation that states loved ones must be cremated in the coffin that was purchased for them.

The recent allegations have prompted calls for the State Government to form an independent, non-government board to inspect all funeral businesses.

Australian Funeral Directors Association (AFDA) spokesman Darren Eddy told ABC Radio Brisbane that Queensland needs to have more regulation to ensure that there are the correct facilities and properly trained staff.

Currently, in Queensland a person does not have to hold a licence to be involved in the funeral industry.

Queensland does not have the regulatory bodies that are in place in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.

“The mortuary must be listed with the government and it’s inspected every 12 months,” he said about current regulations outside of Queensland.

Families are being advised that they check the fine print with their funeral directors, and clearly ask about the process of burial or cremation and what happens to the coffin.

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