Muslim graves reopened for dual burials during UK Covid emergency

Family says ‘it’s difficult to feel at peace’ after two people were buried within two weeks in one plot

 Woodcock Hill Cemetery, Rickmansworth. Robin Webster /
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Relatives of a man who died with Covid have told of their distress after a second person was buried in his plot within two weeks of the funeral.

The family of Basheer Meghjee, who died aged 76 in March 2020 as England went into lockdown, said they were unaware of the implications of new rules on two-tier burials at a Muslim cemetery, introduced because of anticipated high demand for graves during the pandemic.

Basheer Meghjee. Family Handout

Mr Meghjee’s nephew, Monty, said they only learned through rumours circulating the area that a second burial had taken place on top of his uncle's body 12 days after the first funeral at Woodcock Hill Cemetery in Hertfordshire, 30 kilometres north-west of London.

The family went to court for an attempted exhumation but a judge ruled against them, saying they had signed documents agreeing to the two-tier burial. Relatives said the documents were not clear and that they would have gone to another cemetery if they had known about the practice.

The two-tier burial system at the cemetery ended in August 2020 when demand for grave sites was lower than expected.

Monty Meghjee criticised the group that ran the Muslim section and said his family had been divided over what to do next.

“Some felt that it was God’s will and they want to move on,” he said. “But one part of the family feels wronged and it’s very difficult to feel at peace.”

Mr Meghjee’s son Abbas said he had been assured by cemetery authorities that he was buying an exclusive burial plot for 100 years and that only family members could be buried in a second tier of the grave.

The plot at Woodcock Hill Cemetery. Family Handout 

He also believed there were many unused graves in the cemetery, so two-tier burials should not have taken place until all the single plots were full.

The family left a note at a neighbouring plot where they correctly suspected the practice had happened a second time.

Yucel Ibrahim, the daughter of the man buried at that site, said she later discovered that a second person was buried in her father Mustafa's plot. The second burial was two months after the first.

The four people affected in the two cases were from different backgrounds, some Sunni, some Shiite, with their roots in India, Iraq and Turkey, said the families.

“The impact is horrendous,” said Ms Ibrahim. “We can’t grieve properly … we can’t attend the cemetery in a way that any other person would be able to for their family members.

She said that she came under pressure to sign the form and felt let down by the body that ran the Muslim cemetery and the council that leased the site to them.

"I hope my dad is resting in peace, but I will never know because of all the troubles the cemetery and the council have caused."

The BW Foundation, the leaseholders of the Muslim cemetery where some 700 people are buried, said the family had agreed to the new rules.

The foundation told the BBC that it had received several complaints over the past year that two-tier burials had taken place without consent.

But it said that it had “documented evidence … to prove that the accusations are baseless.”