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‘Backlog of bodies’ in the morgue, family waiting to bury flower seller father is told

Coroner refuses to comment as family tell of pain of not being able to have a funeral

30 October, 2020 — By Tom Foot

John Atkins Snr

A BACKLOG of cases at the morgue has caused “unacceptable” delays for funerals, it was claimed this week, following the death of a popular flower seller.

John Atkins, who sold blooms close to the Royal Free Hospital in South End Green, died earlier this month, aged 83. His family say they have had to wait at least three weeks before being able to lay him to rest.

His son John Atkins Jnr, who still runs the stall, said: “My dad is a well-known figure around Kentish Town. Everyone’s asking me, ‘when’s the funeral, John?’ It really is unacceptable and I’m sure we are not the only ones.”

He added: “It’s been very stressful on us all. I understand when someone gets stabbed to death or something like that, it’s going to take a while. But if you are old and you die suddenly in your sleep? Three weeks and he still hasn’t been assigned to a coroner. It is too long. It feels like we’re living in a third-world country when things like this go on.”

Mr Atkins’ father, who grew up in Kentish Town and lived on the Wendling estate, died on October 10.

He was a stone mason for Camden Council before working with his son selling flowers at the pitch.

Mr Atkins Jnr said it would be “disrespectful” to go back to work before the funeral.

He said: “They told us there was a ‘backlog of bodies’. If there is a big backlog of bodies why can’t they get an extra coroner to help them out? It’s publicly funded isn’t it? I just feel like they are a law unto themselves up there. The way they spoke to us, like it was something routine had happened. “For me, personally, it felt like they should be working in Smithfield meat market.”

John Atkins Jnr at the flower stall in South End Green

Mr Atkins Snr worked at the flower stall in Pond Street with his son for 36 years.

But a year-and-a-half ago, he retired from the business due to breathing problems. He had previously worked for the council laying paving slabs around Coram’s Fields and King’s Cross.

Mr Atkins Jnr said: “He was one of the old-school characters of the area – [there are] not many like him left. “Dad used to walk up from the flats to the stall, that was his exercise every day. But after a while he found he couldn’t do it anymore.”

He added: “All I want to do is lay my dad to rest so we can crack on again. I think it’s disrespectful to go back to work before we have done that.”

Mr Atkins said his father had been “a ­little bit frightened” of Covid-19 over the past six months of his life as he had the respiratory condition, COPD.

“Normally he liked to go down the Robert Peel and the betting shop,” he said. “He loved the horse racing – used to win a lot of money on Lester Piggott. For the last six months there’d be none of that. He’d stay at home and look on the telly about what was happening, and if you spoke to him he’d be saying ‘have you seen the R rate has gone up again?’ He was fearful I think.”

Many inquests at St Pancras Coroner’s Court have been adjourned this year due to the Covid-19 lockdown, particularly those where a jury is involved.

The High Court ruled in 2018 that St Pancras coroner Mary Hassell’s policy of not prioritising religious burials was unlawful.

As the coroner’s overall employer, Camden Council has historically provided comment when necessary on the role-holder’s behalf. This week, the New Journal was told that this was no longer the case and that questions should be put directly to St Pancras Coroner’s Court.

We contacted the court and asked for an explanation of what had happened in Mr Atkins’ case and whether there was a backlog of bodies, as his son had said he had been told. In response, the coroner said she would not be commenting.

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