David Rogers 2009

Staffordshire University, UK

A short history of exhumation from lawful burial, in the context of criminal investigations, in England, with specific reference to some of the more unusual cases since 1809

This paper will examine the aetiology of ‘exhumation from lawful burial’ (ELB) in the context of criminal investigations, with specific reference to the secular and ecclesiastical law. It will also examine how ELB has become a valuable part of the crime investigators armoury of investigative strategies concerning death enquiries. Historically, the use of ELB by Coroners appears to have been common-place as the deceased were buried speedily after death. There was a requirement for the coroner and jury to view the body before he (the coroner) deliberated upon the cause(s) of death. This was for two reasons; the first issue was one of identification, the second was to establish whether there were any visible signs of injury, and whether those injuries may have resulted in that person’s death. Since the creation of the modern police force (1829) and specifically the creation of the Criminal Investigation Departments, the investigations of suspicious deaths have been undertaken by the police. The current legislation concerning ELB is the Burial Act 1857 (c.81), and the Coroners Act 1988 (c.13) (soon to be amended). During the last 200 years there have been in excess of 300 cases of ELB, and the rationale for some have been more bizarre than others. Reference will be made to some of those cases.


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