Hearse Key Undertaker Avoids Jail

August 27, 2009
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image An undertaker who stole the keys to a rival’s hearse, leaving it stranded with a body inside, has been given a six-month suspended sentence. David Wood took the keys from the Rolls Royce while mourners gathered for the funeral service in Middlesbrough. Funeral director Joel Kerr had to hotwire the car so Patricia Thorburn’s coffin could be taken to the cemetery.

Wood, 48, who admitted theft, believed Mr Kerr’s firm had been poaching his customers, Teesside Crown Court heard.

The court was told how he stole the keys while the car was parked outside the town’s Salvation Army citadel on 23 September last year.

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As friends and family waited for the service, a queue of mourners for the next funeral formed outside.

Another firm of undertakers offered a replacement car, but Mrs Thorburn had wanted her final journey to the cemetery to be in the vintage Phantom VI Rolls Royce.

The stranded vehicle was too heavy to push and Mr Kerr was forced to rip out the dashboard and hot-wire the engine.

Costly repairs were needed to the car, and the keys which Wood threw away as he fled, have never been found.

Recorder James Goss QC said: “One thing as supposedly civilised human beings we hope to expect is that when death occurs it will be treated with respect.

“Sadly you treated the death in this case and the funeral that was taking place with disrespect.”

The court was told that Wood has since admitted his behaviour had been “stupid, pathetic and childish”.

Peter Makepeace, defending, said there had also been a serious effect on his business since the case was reported.

He said: “I express on Mr Wood’s behalf his profound apology to Mr Kerr and to his staff, and even more particularly to the family of the deceased.”

In addition to the suspended sentence, Wood, of Bridge Court, Middlesbrough, was ordered to pay

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