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‘She has thrown our community into despair’: Jewish burial society slam coroner’s treatment of Rabbi

PUBLISHED: 07:30 21 May 2020

Senior coroner Mary Hassell outside Camden Town Hall 05.07.18. Picture: Polly Hancock

Senior coroner Mary Hassell outside Camden Town Hall 05.07.18. Picture: Polly Hancock

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The senior coroner covering Inner North London is under fire over her treatment of the family of a Rabbi who died of coronavirus – with the Adath Yisroel Burial Society which manages a large number of Jewish funerals in north London considering legal action.

The Adath Yisroel Burial Society's building, perched on the edge of Cissold Park in Islington. They brought the judicial review against Mary Hassell for her first-come, first-served approach to burialsThe Adath Yisroel Burial Society's building, perched on the edge of Cissold Park in Islington. They brought the judicial review against Mary Hassell for her first-come, first-served approach to burials

Rabbi Bobby Hill died amid cancer treatment at University College Hospital.

Although his body was released by the senior coroner – Mary Hassell - in time for a funeral to take place on Friday May 15, this was only after the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews wrote to the Chief Coroner Mark Lucraft QC on May 14.

Ms Hassell’s patch includes Camden, Islington and Hackney.

Rabbi Hill’s case had been referred to the coroner on May 11, but according to Ms van der Zyl’s letter on May 12 the coroner “did not even show [Rabbi Hill’s family] the courtesy of meeting with them”.

Senior coroner Mary Hassell outside Camden Town Hall 05.07.18. Picture: Polly HancockSenior coroner Mary Hassell outside Camden Town Hall 05.07.18. Picture: Polly Hancock

In 2018 Ms Hassell instituted a ‘cab-rank’ system for dealing with new referrals which infuriated religious communities and was successfully challenged at judicial review by the AYBS as discriminatory – as for many Jews and Muslims the time between one’s death and burial is of the utmost importance.

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Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said: “I am so sorry for Mr Hill and his family who have suffered extra anxiety at a time of intense grief. I am doubly disappointed that this case again involves Mary Hassell whose conduct in 2018 led to a successful court case brought by the Adath Yisroel Burial Society to ensure that Ms Hassell would even consider giving priority to a family who requested it. ”

Dr Asher Gratt, from the AYBS, told this newspaper: “Ms Hassell’s rigid conduct this week, causing such immense anguish and trauma, has thrown our community into despair.

“People, especially the elderly and vulnerable, no longer feel safe. They are terrified at what will happen to them when they die.

“We are meeting with top lawyers in the coming days to consider all possible options to once and for all put a stop to this.”

In response to Ms van der Zyl’s letter, the Chief Coroner wrote he was “unable to intervene in individual

cases or supervise individual judicial decision-making by coroners” and that this was particularly important where there was a threat of litigation.

Ms Hassell’s office has not responded to this newspaper’s request for comment.


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