Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Bodies stored for 10 years over Edinburgh legal wrangle

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Media captionStaff attending a body at Edinburgh City Mortuary

The bodies of an elderly couple have lain in a public mortuary for the past 10 years because of a legal wrangle, BBC Scotland can reveal.

They belong to an elderly couple who died in 1987 and 1994. Edinburgh City Council has been unable to gain family consent to bury or cremate the bodies.

The authority believes it is powerless to act without appropriate permission.

Eugenois Marcel died of prostate cancer in 1994 at the age of 91. His wife Hilda died seven years earlier in 1987.

She was 68 and suffered lung failure.

They lie in an Edinburgh mortuary, in the Cowgate.

Kept by son

The pair were moved to Edinburgh City Mortuary after being found mummified in the basement of a shop on Gilmore Place in 2002.

It is understood they were kept there by a son who visited them regularly.

When they were discovered, the father had already been dead for eight years and the mother for 15 years.

An Edinburgh City Council spokesman said: "This is a unique case with very unusual circumstances which has obviously been very difficult for those involved.

Image caption Hilda Marcel died in 1987

"However, we are hopeful that this matter can be resolved in the near future."

Both deaths had been registered under law and death certificates issued.

After an initial police investigation into the find, no charges were brought and the case was dropped.

But Professor Roderick Paisley, a law lecturer from Aberdeen University who specialises in mortality, told BBC Scotland there are laws which give the local authority the power to act.

He said: "It's simply the case, if no-one else is dealing with it, that the council have a right (to cremate).

"They also have a statutory duty imposed by an act of parliament requiring them to attend to the proper disposal of the bodies."

He added: "The family have no veto on that at all."

It is not unusual for bodies to be stored for long periods but only if they cannot be identified.

That situation led to a high profile mix up in Hull earlier this year when the body of ex-paratrooper Christopher Alder was found in a mortuary 10 years after his burial.

The body of an unidentified woman had been released by mistake.

BBC Scotland tried to contact the next of kin of the dead couple without success.

The city council have been in regular communication with them trying to resolve this situation, as recently as this year.

They now plan to make contact again in the hope of bringing this long running dispute to an end.

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