Animals snatched baby's body from London grave

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The Independent Online

Wild animals are thought to have snatched the body of a baby from a mass grave, police said today.

The newborn baby's remains had been buried with up to 12 other infants in Battersea New Cemetery, south London.

An investigation was launched after the grave was disturbed and it was realised the boy's body was missing.

Wandsworth council, which runs the cemetery, said it had apologised to the baby's family but insisted it had acted "in line" with national burial guidelines.

Details of the case, reported to police on September 29, only emerged today.

"We were deeply shocked and dismayed to learn of this awful discovery last year and sent the family our deepest condolences and sympathies," said a Wandsworth council spokesman.

"We also met with them to personally say how sorry we were that this tragedy had happened.

"The burial was arranged and paid for by a local hospital which chose the type of burial required. In line with standard practice across the country for this type of burial, the coffin was covered with at least 18 inches of soil and the grave itself was fully covered over by a large heavy wooden board to keep it secure.

"As a result of this dreadful event, we have changed our procedures and now use a lockable metal cover so that this cannot happen again."

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said the boy's remains were never recovered, despite a search of the area.

"It appears the grave was disturbed by wild animals," he said.

London Councils, which represents the capital's 33 authorities, said there was "very limited space" available at cemeteries.

"Local authorities are fully aware that arranging any type of burial is an emotional and traumatic experience for families, and they take their responsibilities extremely seriously," he said.

"However, councils are faced with balancing accommodating everyone's wishes and the very limited space available in the capital's cemeteries. Each borough has its own policy and we would not attempt to interfere with that."

The Local Government Association said a survey based on information from 116 councils estimated 4,900 funerals were carried out by authorities in 2007/08.

The average cost of a funeral is expected to be £944, resulting in an estimated bill of more than £4 million to the taxpayer.

Public health funerals, also known as paupers' funerals, are arranged when no one else is willing to pay, the LGA said.