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The Coffin Chasers
The mix-ups, cover-ups and sleazy practices that beset Australia’s funeral business.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation


Investigative TV journalism at its best

WOMAN: The use of marble -- 

JANINE COHEN, REPORTER: Many people are so fascinated with death that they like to tour cemeteries at night.

WOMAN: ...many of them buried spouses.

JANINE COHEN: But when it comes to organising a funeral, most people are completely overwhelmed by the task and leave it to the professionals.


Families might arrange one funeral in a lifetime.

JANINE COHEN: Not all funeral directors deserve the trust families place in them to look after their loved ones.

PAUL JONES, DAISY JONES'S GRANDSON: We were robbed of the chance to say goodbye to my grandmother.

TOM BULL, WESTERNPORT FUNERAL SERVICE: There has been circumstances where people have had viewings, and when people have gone to see the person, it's not the right person.

JANINE COHEN: In Australia, you do not need a licence to be a funeral director.

All you need is a mobile telephone and a station wagon.

This has resulted in a growing number of unscrupulous operators.

FUNERAL WORKER: I've witnessed bodies being squashed into coffins, staff sitting on lids to screw the lids down.

CARLO MASSETTI, FORMER SANDS FUNERAL SERVICES EMPLOYEE: Antony just went up and slapped the deceased across the head.

CHRISTINE LITTLE, FORMER G.K. PRIDE DIRECTOR: She wasn't even given the dignity of being dressed in these clothes properly.

They were simply just shook out and put over the top of her.

JANINE COHEN: Tonight on Four Corners, the dark side of the funeral industry.

LORNA FOWLER: How do you feel?


LORNA FOWLER: You'll feel better when you get some stuff into you.

JANINE COHEN: This is the last day Keith Fowler will ever spend at home.

LORNA FOWLER: I've rang everybody and told them that you're supposed to be going to hospital.

JANINE COHEN: Keith's body is riddled with cancer, and he is now too ill to be cared for by his wife Lorna.

The couple have been married for 53 years and have no children.

LORNA FOWLER: But it's better to go, isn't it?

Better than -- 


You need food.

I'll give you some of my fat.

I'll give you some of my fat, eh?

Want some of mine?

I know I'm going to miss him when he goes.

It's gonna be hard, but what can you do?

Life's got to go on.

That's what they say, but -- 

Is that alright?

WOMAN: Yeah, that's fine.

JANINE COHEN: Lorna is now faced with the daunting task of not only saying goodbye to her partner, but also having to make his funeral arrangements.

It is a job that most people are unfamiliar with, and may only ever do once in their own lifetime.

LORNA FOWLER: Didn't want to think about it.


Didn't look that far ahead.

Even though we're --

we're getting old, you know, getting really old -- 

We're 70s.

No, I wouldn't think about death.

Didn't want to.

JANINE COHEN: 128,000 Australians die every year.

And the industry is worth, annually, more than $700 million.

As baby boomers hit their twilight years, that figure is expected to increase dramatically.

FUNERAL DIRECTOR: Lorna, I'll just, if I may, point out some things to you about the coffins and the caskets.

It's a hard thing to have to do, I know, because -- 

JANINE COHEN: Lorna has known her local funeral home in Preston in Melbourne's north for many years.

They buried her mother and Keith's mother too.

They have a good reputation and are a well-established company.

FUNERAL DIRECTOR: Don't be concerned with how it looks at the moment.

Even though it's the simplest coffin, it's still quite presentable.

LORNA FOWLER: You know that you're putting your husband in there, that you've been with for 53 years.

And it's very hard.

But, you know, you've just got to be strong and just know that when it happens to Keith, he will be at peace.

JANINE COHEN: Planning the funeral was made easier for Lorna, because she knew she could trust her local funeral home.

But there are some not as fortunate, like Paul Jones and his family.

In most states the funeral industry is almost completely unregulated, leaving families at the mercy of a growing number of unscrupulous operators.

This is Paul Jones's grandmother, Daisy, who passed away on October 31, three days after her 100th birthday.

PAUL JONES, DAISY JONES'S GRANDSON: I visited her three days prior to her passing away and it was as though she'd made that decision, I suppose, that everyone in life makes, that it's not worth continuing.

And it was time to be with Pop.

JANINE COHEN: After Daisy passed away, the family was recommended a funeral home through its local bowling club - Caring Funerals at Five Dock in Sydney.

A suburban funeral home well-known to the local community.

PAUL JONES: It was just a very informal ceremony.

She didn't want too many bells and whistles, and it was for the family to come and say goodbye.

JANINE COHEN: Daisy wanted to be cremated and her ashes laid to rest next to her husband's at the Rookwood Crematorium.

It was to be her final resting place, or so the family thought.

PAUL JONES: Unfortunately, a month after my grandmother was cremated, we were then advised by the New South Wales Health Department that there had been, as they put it, a grave mistake.

JANINE COHEN: A report had been made to the New South Wales Health Department alleging that Caring Funerals had cremated the wrong body.

It claimed Daisy Jones had not been cremated at all.

In fact, she was buried in someone else's coffin at the Rookwood Cemetery.

The Jones family wanted to know whose ashes they had.

PAUL JONES: We were trying to, I suppose, comprehend the fact that we'd stood in front of a casket that didn't have my grandmother in it.

JANINE COHEN: The day after Daisy Jones's death, 65-year-old Errol Davidson also passed away.

Caring Funerals had recently arranged a friend's funeral, so the family went to them.

WAYNE DAVIDSON, ERROL DAVIDSON'S SON: On the Tuesday, Mum went by Caring Funerals and dropped off the clothing that she wanted Dad dressed in, and I think we had some photographs and some personal effects that we wanted to lay to rest.

I think they were of my father's brother or something like that.

And so the service was performed on the Wednesday, and all went well.

JANINE COHEN: Three weeks later, the Davidsons were notified there had been a possible mix-up.

The family taped the exhumation of their father's coffin.

WAYNE DAVIDSON: We were hoping, I guess, that it wasn't so, and that we -- that it would just be closed then and be finished.

But we expected the worst.

JANINE COHEN: In the coffin were Errol Davidson's photographs, clothes and favourite joggers.

But also the body of Daisy Jones.

PAUL JONES: When you've made a mistake, come forward, tell people you've made that mistake and I'm sure that even though the anxiety you'll cause by telling people of the mistake will pass.

WAYNE DAVIDSON: I think if you go back to the cremation of my father, incorrectly, that could have been a mistake.

But there was no mistake in what they did on the day of what was supposed to be my father's funeral service.

MAN: The other foot's at the top and there appears to be something else.

JANINE COHEN: A cover-up was suggested by the discovery of two heavy paving bricks in the coffin.

They were there to make up weight, so the pallbearers wouldn't know that inside was the much smaller body of Daisy Jones.

PAUL JONES: The fact that they placed these implements into the casket to deceive people, like ourselves and the Davidson family, is just criminal.

WAYNE DAVIDSON: And at least one of the three people present from Caring Funerals knew what was going on.

JANINE COHEN: So who was responsible for the cover-up?

The owner of Caring Funerals, Adam Lee, has always maintained that he had no idea how the mix-up occurred.

It must have been a terrible shock.

ADAM LEE, OWNER, CARING FUNERALS: It was very much a shock.

Still to now, it is very much a shock.

JANINE COHEN: What do you think the families have been through?

ADAM LEE: A hell of a lot.

It must have been very hard for them.

I'd still say it would be hard for both of them now.

It's a horrible experience for everyone.

JANINE COHEN: Have you offered your condolences?

ADAM LEE: Yes, I have.

And I've offered as much as I can and I'm very sorry for what both families have been through.

JANINE COHEN: Police laid charges against Adam Lee of obtaining money by deception and attempting to obtain money by deception.

Who did put Daisy Jones in Errol Davidson's coffin?

ADAM LEE: I don't know.

I don't take much part in the mortuary work.

I spend most of my time in the office and arranging funerals and conducting them.

JANINE COHEN: The charges against Adam Lee were dismissed.

While the court accepted the bodies had been mixed up, it did not believe Adam Lee gained a financial benefit as a result.

Former Caring Funerals employee Robin Ebbott was to be the main witness in the Adam Lee hearing.

But he was never called to give evidence.

Robin Ebbott wasn't at work on the day the wrong body was cremated.

The next day, however, he was told they cremated Errol Davidson instead of Daisy Jones.

He then witnessed the subsequent cover-up.

ROBIN EBBOTT, FORMER CARING FUNERALS EMPLOYEE: I was told by Adam that there had been a bit of a mix-up.

And on Monday, he had mistakenly cremated Mr Davidson and he was putting Mrs Jones into his coffin.

And a paver and a five-litre bottle of water was placed into the coffin with Mrs Jones, 'cause she was a much smaller lady than what Mr Davidson was.

So just to make up a bit of a weight difference, yes.

JANINE COHEN: And you saw, though, that paver and the water being put into the coffin?



JANINE COHEN: Who put that water and paver in?

ROBIN EBBOTT: Adam, my boss.

ADAM LEE: Right.

Well, that's a lie and it's not true.

JANINE COHEN: Why would he lie?

ADAM LEE: I'm not sure why.

JANINE COHEN: Two days later, after learning of the mix-up, Robin Ebbott decided to seek advice from a chamber magistrate, who advised him to confront his employer.

ROBIN EBBOTT: I told him that I would go along to the families, both the Davidsons and the Joneses, with him, for support, if he wanted to go and tell them.

Or I would do it by myself.

But he told me that I -- 

...under no circumstances should I do that.

They would close him down and put him out of business if they found out.

JANINE COHEN: Within 24 hours, Robin Ebbott had resigned from Caring Funerals.

He went to the NSW Health Department and told them of the mix-up.

He went to the authorities.

He had a lot to lose.

He lost his job.

He had to put the families through all that grief.

Why would he make something up like that?

ADAM LEE: I'm not sure why.

I wish I knew why.

JANINE COHEN: It was the Health Department that told the Jones family of the terrible mistake.

Meanwhile, Adam Lee recovered the body of Daisy Jones and cremated her, failing to notify the family about the time of the belated cremation.

PAUL JONES: We didn't have the chance to say goodbye.

And that's the devastating part to the family.

There were instructions from my uncle to Caring Funerals, of course, to dress my grandmother in her favourite dress.

We still aren't aware as to whether that did occur.

JANINE COHEN: Three former Caring Funerals staff have separately told Four Corners that Adam Lee often refused to dress the bodies in the clothes provided by the families, because this takes time, and staff get paid extra for the work.

According to former staff, the bodies at Caring Funerals are often left naked or untouched in body bags, with their personal effects thrown on top.

Bodies kept in bags are harder to identify, and it's this that could have contributed to the mix-up.

AIDEN NYE, FUNERAL AND ALLIED INDUSTRIES UNION: If a family requested that the body be dressed, then at that stage that would be a contractual arrangement and he should certainly do it.

Customer practice, morality, all of that, that is exactly what you would do anyway.

There's not much faith or hope in sort of deceiving the dead, I'll tell you.

JANINE COHEN: The dead were deceived again on 22 August this year by Adam Lee.

Four Corners has learnt of a second case where he mixed up two deceased.

One family again farewelled the wrong body.

This time the remains of Sydney woman Patricia McQuade was sent by mistake to Muriel Brassil's funeral.

After the service at the Northern Suburbs Crematorium, the body went to the cremation furnace, where staff noticed the name on the coffin did not match their records.

On the 22 August this year, Caring Funerals had another mix-up, didn't they?


JANINE COHEN: Your company mixed up the bodies of Muriel Brassil and Patricia McQuade.

ADAM LEE: No, they didn't.

JANINE COHEN: We've been told by crematorium staff and other staff who confirmed that Patricia McQuade's body was sent to Muriel Brassil's funeral.

ADAM LEE: No, that's wrong.

You're just trying to make me out to be bad, but that's wrong.

I'm going to leave the interview.

I'm sorry.

JANINE COHEN: Despite Adam Lee's denials, he was notified of the mix-up and he personally collected the coffin with Patricia McQuade's body.

When Adam Lee returned with the new coffin, crematorium management made him sign a statutory declaration saying that it contained the right body - the body of Muriel Brassil.

They also sent him a letter, urging him to investigate the matter and inform the families.

He never did.

The families only learnt of the mix-up when told by Four Corners.

Muriel Brassil had specifically requested a priest preside over her service.

In fact, her body received no final blessing while Patricia McQuade's received two.

In NSW, there are currently no laws or regulations to prevent Adam Lee from continuing to operate.

In fact in all states, Mr Lee would be free to continue business as usual with the possible exception of Tasmania, where he could be open to challenge.

STEPHEN PARRY, AUSTRALIAN FUNERAL DIRECTORS ASSOCIATION: Our industry is certainly pushing for a greater degree of regulation throughout the country and, hopefully, one day we'll succeed and people like that will not be able to operate.

I think our community is at least owed that.

PAUL JONES: I need a licence to drive a car.

You want to be a doctor, you need a licence.

A funeral industry director or anyone involved in that industry should be licensed, so that in unfortunate situations of this ever occurring again, the licence is taken away.

They are shut down.

It's as simple as that.

They should not be allowed to operate.

JANINE COHEN: Mixing up bodies is not that uncommon, according to some in the industry.

Victorian funeral director Ted Bull admits his company has had its share of blunders.

In one case where the bodies were mixed up, they were both open for viewing during the funeral service.

In the first instance, the family did not even notice it was not their father on display.

TED BULL, EDWARD (TED) BULL FUNERAL DIRECTOR: We had a problem here only last year, but we didn't cremate the body.

We had two bodies there but we had the wrong body on display.

And the second one came and told us it was the wrong body so that is how we got over it.

TOM BULL, WESTERNPORT FUNERAL SERVICE: It can be a very simple mix-up but it should not have occurred.

You should always double-check or triple-check the right bodies with the right nameplates.

TED BULL: It's just the same -- 

similar names and the same coffins.

And it was just that the lid was put on the wrong one.


TED BULL: That has happened quite a lot of times, I can assure you.

JANINE COHEN: You think it happens a lot?

TED BULL: Oh, yeah.

JANINE COHEN: In the case of your father's company, do you think it was the first time it had ever happened?

TOM BULL: Oh, I can't comment on that one.

JANINE COHEN: Sound like you know something.

TOM BULL: Oh, I might do but I can't disclose that information, I'm sorry.

JANINE COHEN: Do you think this happens more often than the public realise?

TOM BULL: It does happen more than what the public does realise.

I think that's why a lot of people do like to have viewings - to know that actually it is Mum or Dad in the coffin, not somebody else's beloved one.

TED BULL: If there's no viewing, nobody knows anything about it.

JANINE COHEN: Tom Bull is one of Ted Bull's sons.

He runs his own funeral home in Hastings in Victoria.

He used to be known as Ted, but he changed his name because he didn't want to be associated with his father.

This followed an incident last year when his father left ashes on a widow's doorstep.

TOM BULL: You should not leave someone's ashes on a doorstep, whether they are deceased or not.

NORAH McGUIRE, FUNERAL INDUSTRY COUNCIL MEMBER: You hear of all kinds of things that people think, "Well, you know, it's not so bad", but it is because you have to look at the impact on the family, on the friends, not just the fact that, well, there was a box on the step and it just had a few ashes in it.

It's not as simple as that.

JANINE COHEN: Should the industry be regulated to protect the community from people like you?

TED BULL: I suppose they could, in a way, but I don't think I did that much wrong, to be quite honest.

JANINE COHEN: In this unregulated industry, there are small businesses operating out of suburban backyards offering cheap funerals.

Many do not have a mortuary on premises or even trained staff to prepare the bodies.

Christine Little was introduced through an associate to a new funeral home in Sydney's west that she thought was respectable.

She became a director of GK Pride, but only worked there a short time when she became concerned about what was happening in this suburban backyard.

Christine Little resigned and reported her colleagues to health authorities.

CHRISTINE LITTLE, FORMER GK PRIDE DIRECTOR: The lady was in the back of the station wagon and she was prepared in the backyard.

She was pulled out of the station wagon on a stretcher, laid on the ground.

The clothes that had been specially chosen by the family that were given to Deborah Jurd in a plastic bag were brought out of the house.

She wasn't even given the dignity of being dressed in these clothes properly.

They were simply just shook out and put over the top of her.

And I see Deborah Jurd standing there.

The top had been pushed to the side, the coffin was sticking out of the back of the sta -- 

She's standing there, shaving her, shaving this lady's face.

She's just standing there in broad daylight, shaving this lady's face.

How dare she do that to that woman?

How dare she do it in the backyard open to everything and everybody?

JANINE COHEN: Four Corners wanted to interview directors of GK Pride, including Deborah Jurd, but she declined.

She denied preparing the elderly woman in the backyard or even being present.

But Four Corners has obtained a statutory declaration from a former employee who supports Christine Little's version of events.

Christine Little also says there were other improper practices at GK Pride, including the preparation of a four-year-old boy on a dining room table, and the storage of a foetus in a domestic refrigerator.

CHRISTINE LITTLE: Being a mother myself I would not, if I had had the misfortune to have miscarried a foetus at 16 weeks, I would not have liked to know that that is what had happened to my baby.

JANINE COHEN: Why was the foetus in the refrigerator?

CHRISTINE LITTLE: Because the service was to take place the next day and they didn't want the cost of taking the foetus over to Macquarie Fields to place in the mortuary.

JANINE COHEN: In July this year GK Pride was convicted of using premises other than a mortuary for the preparation and placement of bodies into coffins.

Not long after being charged with these offences, GK Pride changed its name to DJ McCartney and moved to these premises in Smeaton Grange.

Deborah Jurd is still a director.

AIDEN NYE: Generally what happens with these people is if they lose out on one end of the street, they pick it up on another.

We have had occasions where people have been convicted and then they just form another company and start operations probably within 24, 48 hours.

JANINE COHEN: While some businesses change names, others operate under several different names.

This funeral home in Guildford in Sydney's west is run by Antony Jeffrey, not to be confused with his father, Tony Jeffrey, who operates a separate funeral home in Ashfield in Sydney's west.

At 29, Antony Jeffrey is a veteran of the industry.

He offers a range of services suiting all clients.

They include the Australian-Polish funeral service, Chinese funeral services, East Asian funeral service, Hindu, Sikh and associated Indian funeral services, Orthodox funeral services and Leading Lady funeral services.

Most of them are based here at the Sands Funeral Home, which has a large turnover in staff who say they are shocked at what happens in this building.

They say bodies have been squashed and forced into coffins, not dressed and even physically assaulted.

Another former worker says families have also been charged for services not performed, including temporary preservation and embalming.

Several of Jeffrey's former employees didn't want to come on camera but provided Four Corners with statutory declarations.

CARLO MASSETTI, FORMER SANDS FUNERAL SERVICES EMPLOYEE: Yeah, there was a lot of abuse out there - squashing of the deceased into coffins.

There was a time, I believe, which I actually didn't see, where staff members had to sit on the coffin lid to screw it down correctly.

JANINE COHEN: Was there ever a time where families would request that a body would be dressed and these requests would be ignored?

CARLO MASSETTI: Yeah, most of the time.

Not all the time, but most of the time those requests were just totally ignored, the clothes were just thrown into the coffin or casket and that was that.

JANINE COHEN: Carlo Massetti has been in the funeral industry for five years.

He worked at the Sands for only two weeks before he resigned, disgusted with what he saw.

CARLO MASSETTI: There was a couple of incidents there where I was with Antony in the mortuary, there was just two of us there, there was a deceased lying on the mortuary table and Antony just went up and slapped the deceased across the head.

That's one incident and that's totally uncalled for.

It's just disgusting.

JANINE COHEN: Why did he do it?

CARLO MASSETTI: Why did he do it?

I don't know why he did it.

He was just in there and he walked past and he gave him a good clip across the head.

JANINE COHEN: Statutory declarations from former staff are full of comments about how badly the deceased were treated in the mortuary.

CARLO MASSETTI: There was one occasion where Antony said to a funeral member, "Put that ugly fucker in the coffin."

JANINE COHEN: And that was common?

CARLO MASSETTI: Well, for Antony, that was just everyday talk.

JANINE COHEN: In April this year Sydney man Barry Gordon passed away in a nursing home.

Police called in the Sands Funeral Services - which has a government contract to collect and bury destitutes - because they wrongly thought the 74-year-old had no money.

Antony Jeffrey delivered the body to the Rookwood Crematorium and gave the staff police documentation verifying that Barry Gordon was a destitute.

This meant a savings to the Sands Funeral Services of $462 because destitute cremations are charged at a lower rate.

However, police have told Four Corners that the signature on the document verifying Barry Gordon was a destitute was not that of any officer at the relevant station.

It was only when Four Corners raised this matter with Antony Jeffrey and police contacted him that he telephoned the crematorium, professing an accounting error and offering to return the money.

Police are now investigating the matter of the forged signature.

After flowers are presented on a coffin in a crematorium funeral service, they are supposed to be disposed of.

However, some funeral directors go into the crematorium and tell staff the family have requested the flowers be kept.

Former staff say that Antony Jeffrey often instructs workers to recycle flowers as many as four times, always charging families for new floral arrangements.

CARLO MASSETTI: On one occasion I did a Saturday morning funeral at a church over in Edgecliff, and then we came back to the funeral home with the coffin, and I was instructed by Antony to take the flowers off the coffin and put the flowers in the mortuary refrigerator, and they were to be used on another funeral for the Monday or the Tuesday.

JANINE COHEN: So you not only witnessed flowers being recycled but, on at least one occasion, you were asked to take part?

CARLO MASSETTI: That's right.

I was.

JANINE COHEN: More than 250,000 Australians have taken up the option of a prepaid funeral or burial plot.

They purchase a prearranged funeral through their funeral home of choice, which is supposed to pass on the money to a secure funeral fund that invests it safely until the time comes when it is needed.

But this doesn't always happen.

Victorian funeral director Ted Bull has question marks hanging over the money he has collected for prepaid funerals.

He has been convicted on 30 charges of failing to invest more than $150,000 paid by customers for prearranged funerals.

His company was fined $10,000 and he was personally convicted too.

Ted Bull says he wasn't notified about the changes to the law that required money to be in a special fund, and he maintains the money was invested under their own names in a bank account earning interest and he didn't spend one cent.

Why were you convicted, then, if you did the right thing?

TED BULL: That's what I'd like to know.

JANINE COHEN: Ted Bull says he never received the notice telling him that the law had changed in regard to prepaid funerals and for three years he continued to keep customers' money in the bank.

Is that a suitable excuse?

STEPHEN PARRY: Well, absolutely not.

If I didn't receive notice that the speed limit was changed, is that an excuse?

I don't believe that's an excuse.

JANINE COHEN: So none of that money you privately invested?

JANINE COHEN: Not one cent?

TED BULL: Not one cent.

We had more money than what we put in because of the interest rate on it.

JANINE COHEN: It just doesn't make sense, does it?


JANINE COHEN: Only Victoria, NSW and Queensland have laws requiring that prepaid funeral money should be held in a special fund and not by a funeral director.

Many customers often do not realise the funeral director has not invested the money properly.

MICHELLE STAUNTON, QUEENSLAND FUNERAL DIRECTORS ASSOCIATION: My best advice to people who are taking prepaid funeral funds is actually don't give the funeral director cash, to start with.

You know, it's just a safeguard on your behalf.

And also to make the cheque out to the prepaid funeral fund.

NORAH McGUIRE: Unfortunately, there are some directors who would put the money back into their business.

Who's to say they're going to have the money to bury the person when they eventually die?

That's another area in which there has to be strict accounting.

You don't hand money over to a funeral director unless you know where that money is going to be kept safe.

People should ask the question.

JANINE COHEN: The funeral industry is highly competitive and operators are always looking for new ways to drum up business.

Not all their methods are above board.

One lucrative source of income can be government contracts.

When authorities send contractors to collect a body for a coronial inquiry they sometimes approach the deceased's family for the funeral job.

Phillip Connolly makes no apologies for trying to pick up the extra work when he goes to collect the dead.

He has five Queensland Government contracts.

PHILLIP CONNOLLY, FUNERAL DIRECTOR: A lot of times there's a little old lady left in a house, her husband's had a haemorrhage in the toilet, he's left a bit of a mess in there.

We stay behind, we clean that up, we make her a cup of tea.

We just look after her, because she just doesn't know what to do next and she needs somebody to put their arms around her and, you know, that's being human.

That's the human side of it.

You know, it's not like some of our critics actually think.

You know, it's -- we're doing what we think needs to be done, and if we do it, we know it's being done properly.

JANINE COHEN: Your critics say the reason you'd be making that little old lady a cup of tea is so that you can get the funeral.

PHILLIP CONNOLLY: Well that's OK, if she likes us.

JANINE COHEN: Is there anything wrong with picking up extra business when you collect a body?

PHILLIP CONNOLLY: No, I don't think so.

Not at all.

JANINE COHEN: Phillip Connolly won the Queensland Government tenders after he successfully offered a one-cent-a-body collection fee.

This has attracted widespread criticism from the industry, because the fee clearly does not match the recovery costs.

A spokesman for the Queensland Attorney-General, who is responsible for the contracts, told Four Corners that contractors had been guilty of some appalling and unsavoury conduct.

He said the Government was determined to stop touting.

MICHELLE STAUNTON: Well, my opposition, I suppose, is that you can't make the one-cent contracts work.

And what it actually does is gives the person who has the contract an opportunity - it gives them the first contact with the family.

And the family then think that maybe this is the funeral director they need to deal with, and if they are contacted by this funeral director they think this is the way they must go at this time.

JANINE COHEN: Phillip Connolly admits he is often the first to tell the next of kin they have lost a loved one.

PHILLIP CONNOLLY: Occasionally, but sometimes it's at the request of the family, sometimes it's at the request of a nursing home, sometimes it's because the people who are meant to have gone off-duty.

MICHELLE STAUNTON: It's not a community service.

It's not helping the police.

It's touting for business.

JANINE COHEN: Phillip Connolly says he used to belong to Michelle Staunton's association, but he left to join the Australian Funeral Directors Association, because it was more supportive of his business practices.

Are they supporting you?

They see no problem with it?

PHILLIP CONNOLLY: I believe not.

JANINE COHEN: So the Australian Funeral -- 

PHILLIP CONNOLLY: They see the truth.

They see through the critics.

STEPHEN PARRY: Phil and I will have to disagree on that, because I don't believe it is appropriate behaviour to be tendering one cent, that there must be a reason as to why you tender.

He's obviously indicated he believes he can attract more work for his funeral company by being around a family.

Our view is, and my very strong personal view, is families need to contact us, we shouldn't be contacting families.

JANINE COHEN: The funeral industry thrives on recommendations.

But not all are above board.

Some funeral homes pay kickbacks for introductions to the families who need their services.

Well-known Sydney funeral directors, brothers Mick and John Manning, hit the headlines in 1996.

They were caught giving kickbacks to Glebe Mortuary staff in exchange for introductions to families.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption investigated them and recommended they be prosecuted for offering secret commissions and for bribery.

But they were never charged with those offences.

MICK AND JOHN MANNING, MANNINGS FUNERAL HOME: All we did was gave somebody -- and we'll call it a 'drink'.

And it's a common practice, a drink, for recommending us.

And it happened probably 20 times in four years.

I forgot I gave it to them.

Unfortunately, they didn't.

JANINE COHEN: What is a 'drink'?


MICK MANNING: $150, it was.

And that was a drink.

We weren't the only funeral directors -- 

Because as far as we were concerned, it's been going on for years and years and years.

We weren't the -- 

If you want to look at it, we weren't the boys who started the whole thing up.

We were just boys who were there and said, 'thank you'.

JANINE COHEN: Did the Mannings do anything unusual?


It goes on everywhere.

JANINE COHEN: It still goes on today?

JASON WALSH: It still goes on.

It's just that they were unfortunate to get caught, I think.

And it makes the other funeral directors a bit more discreet to make sure they don't get caught doing it.

JANINE COHEN: It's not just mortuary staff that receive slings from funeral homes.

Nursing homes too are a goldmine for funeral directors.

Some nursing homes keep a book where residents are asked to nominate their funeral home of choice.

However, sometimes the resident or their family fails to choose a funeral home.

So they'll actually put in a certain funeral home's name into the blank space in this book?

JASON WALSH: That's right.

JANINE COHEN: And what would they get for doing that?

JASON WALSH: Well, I don't know what they get, but they get something for it.

JANINE COHEN: A kickback?

JASON WALSH: Yes, I'd call it that.

TOM BULL: There is a lot of nursing homes who do get kickbacks from funeral directors.

Unfortunately, I'm not one of those lucky ones.

There are also a lot of RSL clubs etc, who do get kickbacks from funeral directors.

JANINE COHEN: What sort of kickbacks?

TOM BULL: Oh, might get a new telly for the club.

I walked into one RSL one day - I won't disclose the RSL - introduced myself and my prices and the manager said, "See that telly up there?"

I said, "Yes."

He said, "That came from a certain funeral company."

I said, "Oh, that's nice."

JANINE COHEN: Four Corners has learnt of another case where a funeral home in Queensland gave a car to their local RSL.

And former Victorian RSL president Bruce Ruxton was paid a consultancy fee by Australia's largest funeral company, Service Corporation International (SCI), when he was president.

Mr Ruxton says he's still a consultant for SCI and recommends them to his fellow RSL members because they do a good job.

He would not disclose how much he is paid.

An RSL spokesman said Mr Ruxton was not recommending SCI in any official capacity.

The RSL doesn't endorse any funeral company, he said.

The promotion doesn't stop there.

Funeral directors are always looking for new ways to publicise their names.

Nursing home residents sometimes get taken out for the day on a bus, courtesy of their local funeral director.

STEPHEN PARRY: There is nothing wrong with funeral directors wishing to make the lives of others more pleasant in the community.

And a lot of -- 

JANINE COHEN: But they're not just wishing to make the lives of others more pleasant.


JANINE COHEN: They're after a financial return.

STEPHEN PARRY: Well, they're marketing.

And what they're doing there is they're placing their name in front of those residents.

I have no problem with that, providing that's all they're doing.

They're just placing their name in front of the residents.

MICHELLE STAUNTON: I'd hate to think that my grandmother or something who was in a nursing home is driving around in a bus with a funeral director's name on the side of it or that when she goes out for a lovely day out, she gets given, when she gets back, a brochure from the local funeral parlour.

I'd hate to think that that was happening.

JANINE COHEN: The industry is split on some work ethics but most agree there's an urgent need for regulation.

Despite years of lobbying by the industry, there's been a lack of political will by state governments to tackle the problems.

In NSW, they have recently announced that funeral directors who repeatedly breach public health regulations will be barred from the industry.

These would be the toughest laws in the country, but many think they don't go far enough.

PAUL JONES: Our family just cannot believe that in that industry, there is no licence.

There's nothing there that restricts any person to open a funeral parlour.

CHRISTINE LITTLE: If more people were in the industry working with their hearts, instead of their bank balances, it might make a difference.

WAYNE DAVIDSON: I want to think that -- that -- 

..100 per cent of the time, that what people desire to be done with their loved ones once they pass away is carried out, their wish is honoured.

Why it should be any different, I can't understand.

JANINE COHEN: Most people at least once in their lifetime will put their trust in a funeral director.

It is a trust that is placed without question at a time when they are completely vulnerable.

For now, there are no safeguards to stop that trust from being abused.

People can only be careful.

MICHELLE STAUNTON: Really, families, I feel, should choose a funeral director.

Ring them up, ring two or three.

It's nothing wrong with asking for prices, asking where their premises are.

Ask them where Mum or Dad are going to be kept until the day of the funeral.

PRIEST: Keith Victor Fowler was born in Armadale here in Melbourne on the 13th day of May in the year 1925.

JANINE COHEN: Keith Fowler died two weeks ago.

His wife Lorna gave her husband, a former soldier, the dignified farewell he deserved.

PRIEST: He was good-natured.

He was kind.

A friendly man.



A very loving person.

JANINE COHEN: But for others, there's no guarantee that the funeral they plan is the one they get.

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