Funeral venues in England still capping mourners, grieving mother says

Parent of stabbing victim Tai O’Donnell finds London venues restricting numbers despite 17 May lockdown easing

A grieving mother said she had “nowhere left to turn” after dozens of possible venues for a funeral service near London refused to let her invite more than 30 mourners, despite England’s coronavirus restrictions being about to change.

Stacey O’Donnell, whose 19-year-old son, Tai O’Donnell, was stabbed to death in his home in Croydon on 3 March, said she was “shattered” by her attempts to find a venue for the service.

She had delayed the funeral until after 17 May, when the government’s limit on mourners is to be lifted allowing any number of people to gather as long as venues can comply with social distancing. She wanted to invite 50-60 guests whose lives “had been touched by Tai”.

But dozens of sites in Croydon and the surrounding area in south London, including those with large indoor and outdoor areas that would make social distancing possible, were restricting mourners to a maximum of 30, with many also limiting the service to 30 minutes, O’Donnell said.

She said: “I have a young boy who was very much loved by a lot of people, and it just seems completely wrong that we can’t come together to remember him and give thanks for the moments we shared. I would understand if it was prior to restrictions being dropped … but vaccinations have gone out, the people who are most at risk are covered. So for people to choose to enforce these restrictions just feels wrong.”

O’Donnell had found a private venue in Surrey but it could accommodate only 30 mourners, and religious venues had also said numbers had to be limited and insisted on religious ceremonies. Many hotels, golf courses and other venues were shut until 21 June, she added.

She felt the search for a venue had taken a toll on her mental health. “It’s killing me to be honest. It has taken so long to get him back, and now to have so many doors close in my face is just awful. I don’t feel like I’m asking for a great deal, just a space to be able to say goodbye to my baby.”

O’Donnell said her “creative, loving and happy” son had not been involved in gangs or fights. He had had dreams of a career in music.

A 22-year-old, Kamila Ahmad, was arrested on 7 March and subsequently charged with Tai’s murder. She is due to appear at the Old Bailey on 26 May.

O’Donnell now hopes a venue in Croydon or the surrounding area will answer her plea and provide a space for up to 60 people where she can hold the planned hour-and-a-half service. “We have our own ministers, an order of service and hand-written prayers. We have everything ready to go, but nowhere to go.”

Kultar Nayyar, services director for Victim Support’s National Homicide Service, which is supporting O’Donnell, said that while the restrictions during the pandemic were necessary they had meant some families who had lost a loved one to murder or manslaughter had missed out on saying their last goodbyes. “We urge the government to provide greater clarity, and for funeral providers to be accommodating to the need of families who have waited long enough to bury their loved one,” he said.

Deborah Smith, from the National Association of Funeral Directors, said the association had received other reports that some councils were reluctant to allow more than 30 guests at funerals. “We urge funeral venues or councils that are taking this approach to think again,” she said.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said the legal limit on numbers of mourners at funerals would be removed on 17 May and the government was working with the funerals sector and councils to make sure they were aware and prepared.


Alexandra Topping

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Coronavirus: theatres, music venues and beauty salons in England to reopen
Easing of rules from Saturday comes with new or bigger fines for illegal raves and repeated refusal to wear masks

Heather Stewart

13, Aug, 2020 @9:30 PM

Article image
Wakes to be banned in tier 3 hospitality venues in England
Government U-turn creates set of Covid rules stricter than during November lockdown

Haroon Siddique and Jessica Elgot

01, Dec, 2020 @6:40 PM

Article image
Pubs and venues may turn away people not Covid-vaccinated, says minister
Nadhim Zahawi, in charge of UK rollout, says technology could help track who has had jab

Harry Taylor and agency

30, Nov, 2020 @8:00 PM

Article image
NHS Covid app could be used to prove status and access venues in England
Measures being considered would see pubs and restaurants checking if customers have been vaccinated or recently tested

Aubrey Allegretti and Jessica Elgot

24, Feb, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Johnson to allow hugging and indoor venues to reopen in England from 17 May
Spread of Indian Covid variant has not deterred PM from return of cinemas and indoor hospitality and permitting mixing at home

Sarah Boseley Health editor

09, May, 2021 @9:30 PM

Article image
Coronavirus UK: 'entire nation is grieving' says Priti Patel as death tolls passes 20,000 - as it happened
Grim milestone comes almost six weeks after chief scientific adviser said keeping toll under that number would be ‘a good outcome in terms of where we would hope to get’

Lucy Campbell (now) and Mattha Busby (earlier)

25, Apr, 2020 @4:38 PM

Article image
Oxford vaccine still under review, says UK medicine agency
Jab could be given green light by 28 December, triggering immediate NHS distribution

Molly Blackall and Denis Campbell

19, Dec, 2020 @12:16 PM

Article image
Bill Clinton to join mourners at Martin McGuinness funeral
Former US president among a number of high-profile political figures scheduled to attend funeral in Derry on Thursday afternoon

Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent

23, Mar, 2017 @9:49 AM

Article image
Birmingham arts venues announce major job losses
Symphony Hall and Town Hall will lose around half of their 65 permanent staff

Steven Morris

13, Jul, 2020 @11:01 PM

Article image
Grieving mother calls for end to London bloodshed
Pretana Morgan’s 17-year-old son died in Kennington on a weekend of violence

Jamie Grierson

07, May, 2018 @11:49 AM