‘Parish residents have right to be buried there’

St Wilfrid's graveyard, Standish
St Wilfrid's graveyard, Standish

The Church of England’s decision to grant a burial plot - which sparked controversy in a Wigan parish - has been clarified by an Archdeacon.

The issue at Standish St Wilfrid’s attracted national coverage last week and the church has clarified its position.

John Richard Jones QC, 58, and his wife Heather of Wrightington had requested to be buried in the churchyard where Mr Jones was baptised and confirmed and where he and his wife married in 2000.

But the application for a double grave space to be reserved was opposed by parishioners. They feared it would open a “floodgate” for similar bids and cause “upset and division” as the high-flying lawyer was no longer a regular member of the congregation.

In a statement, The Venerable Mark Ireland, Archdeacon of Blackburn, told the Observer: “The Church of England has the privilege of ministering to many families at time of bereavement, and is always ready to provide funeral services and burials whether or not the individual concerned was a regular worshipper.

“The Chancellor’s judgement reaffirms the important principle that all those who live in a parish have a right to be buried in the churchyard so long as there is space, whether or not they happen to be churchgoers.

“Reserving a grave space in advance can only be done by gaining a faculty from the Chancellor, which the couple in this case have done.

“I am sure that Standish PCC will study the Chancellor’s judgement and decide whether they wish to establish a policy in respect of future requests to reserve a grave space.

“We shall do whatever we can to support the parish in caring for bereaved families and offering the Christian hope of life beyond death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

The churchyard has around 90 grave spaces left which, at the current rate of around 20 burials a year are likely to be exhausted in around four and a half years.

However, in his role as a judge of the CofE’s Consistory Court which has to approve matters such as this, Chancellor John Bullimore, over-ruled the objections.