Farmer wins right to dig his own grave on his own land
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Monday 14 December 1992
The Scottish Office ruled last week that Mr Alcock, a former City stockbroker, did not require planning consent for private burials on his 500-acre farm in Royal Deeside.
Having learnt that it was unnecessary to go through the planning process with Kincardine and Deeside Council, Mr Alcock now wants back the pounds 197 which he paid in planning fees during his battle with the council.
His views on the supposed need to be buried in consecrated ground are frank. 'Sheer bunk,' he says. He has a do-it-yourself plywood coffin stored in his turnip shed with two pounds 12 body bags - the other is for his wife, Diana, who will be buried alongside him.
The Scottish Office informed him that no planning consent was required, since private graves in the Aboyne farm 'did not constitute a change of land use' and digging the graves 'did not constitute an engineering project' under Town and Country planning regulations. Mr Alcock, 57, is not treating the ruling as an historic victory. Reports on planning for his death have been greatly exaggerated, he claims. 'I haven't set any precedent in law. It was all there,' he said.
In England and Wales, the legal position governing burial is no different from the Scottish Office ruling. According to a Home Office spokeswoman, no restrictions exist to prevent burial even in your own back garden. Only an intervention by the Department of the Environment, worried about ground pollution, could result in private burial being refused.
Three years ago, after reading Undertaken with Love by Jane Spottiswood - a story about the author's husband dying of cancer and wanting a simple funeral - the Alcocks decided they wanted to be buried on a particularly beautiful hilltop overlooking their farm, without the palaver of crematoriums and formal funerals. But conversations with the council started to become complex, he said. 'I would ask, 'Why do I need permission to bury me? I'm a farmer. I bury dead animals here all the time.' They would say, 'Animals are agricultural, sir'. I would say, 'What about chimpanzees, are they agricultural?' '
With planning permission given, Mr Alcock got down to the business of building coffins. 'I lay on the ground and a friend measured me. The local postman refused to believe what I was doing, so I sprayed RIP on the side in red sheep dip.' The coffin is now resting in the turnip shed after the farm dog took to urinating on it.
Mr Alcock dismisses accusations of being either morbid or eccentric. 'I see no reason not to laugh or joke about it now. Because when either of us dies, you never know how you will react.
'Let me explain by offering these lines from a poem by Joyce Grenfell - 'If I should go before the rest of you. . . weep if you must but sing as well'.'
He added: 'You don't need all that burial stuff. It's sheer bunk about not getting your angels' wings unless you are in consecrated ground.' He describes himself as religious, 'but not in any conventional sense'.
He and his wife's final resting place, with spaces for immediate family and close friends, will look over 155 acres designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the rare orchids growing nearby. 'I decided to buy this farm within one minute of seeing it. We've worked it more or less as organic farmers. Eventually we'd like a small plaque simply noting who's down there with the deer and the sheep grazing over us.'
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