Coronavirus: Birmingham funeral staff ‘spat at’ by mourners


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Birmingham City Council has imposed a limit of six people per funeral

Bereavement staff have been spat at and assaulted by mourners who are angry at the six-person restriction for funerals, a city council has said.

Councillors condemned the incidents, which they said put staff at greater risk during the coronavirus pandemic.

Birmingham City Council has imposed a limit of six people per funeral, although other councils are allowing up to 10 visitors.

The council said its bereavement staff had been under increased pressure.

Paul Lankester, assistant director of regulation and enforcement – which includes bereavement services – said: “Emotions always run high when someone has lost a loved one and unfortunately there have been incidents where some of my staff have been verbally abused and that sort of thing.

“We try and work with people but I would just encourage people to remember they’re just doing their job, they don’t set the policy.

“I think the biggest difficulty has been the volume of emails we’re getting, we’re getting thousands a week more than we would’ve done and I can only apologise for that.”

The council statement said staff had also suffered verbal and physical abuse.

‘Spat at’

“There have been a small number of instances in recent weeks where bereavement staff have been verbally abused for assisting the council in implementing the six-mourner restriction at funerals.

“Occasionally this has turned physical, with staff being spat at or physically assaulted.

“These incidents have been followed up and investigations are ongoing – therefore we cannot provide further details at this time.”

Council leader Ian Ward, said it was “so important that key workers are treated with kindness and respect at this time”.

A statement released by a cross-party group of councillors thanked bereavement staff for their work and asked people to treat staff with courtesy and respect, reports the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

It said: “The difficult decision to maintain the restriction of the number of mourners attending funerals to six – which has the support of all the political groups on Birmingham City Council – was not made by our staff.

“The decision was taken by councillors and senior management to protect both staff and mourners from unnecessary exposure to the risk of contracting the virus, something we would hope everyone should have sympathy with.

“We firmly believe that the current limit is correct for Birmingham and must remain in place while the national lockdown continues.”

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