Why are Bodies Exhumed?

Written by Fraser Stewart
Reading time 3 minutes
Why are Bodies Exhumed? image

Exhuming bodies is a sensitive topic, and many cultures and religions frown upon exhumation. That being said, there are a lot of valid reasons bodies may be exhumed. In this article, we will discuss what exhumation is, why it may be necessary, and what the process is.

What is exhumation?

Exhumation is the process of “digging up” a dead body. The body may then be moved elsewhere or examined for DNA or criminal evidence before being reburied.

Why are bodies exhumed?

It is illegal to disturb bodies without cause in the UK. So, in order to exhume a body, there must be a good reason.

If the dead body is involved in a criminal case, then the authorities may issue a court order to examine the body for evidence that may have been missed in the initial investigation.

In some cases, if the body was not identified before burial, then it may be exhumed in order to match DNA. This often happens with unknown military members or victims of mass casualties.

Often, a body may be moved because a family will request relocation of the burial site. The family may have purchased a family plot or want their deceased loved one handled in a certain way. They may decide to cremate their loved ones or even move them to another country if they died overseas.

What is the process for exhuming bodies in the UK?

To exhume a body in the UK, you need to obtain an exhumation license from the Ministry of Justice. There is no fee for this, but you will need to get permission from the owner of the burial plot, the family of the deceased, and the relevant authorities. If the body is buried in a churchyard, it is considered to be buried on consecrated ground, and you must receive permission from the Church of England to exhume the body.

Once you have all the necessary permission, you can go ahead and book a time with the current burial authority and the exhumation service you hire. There will be fees for the service, and you may have to pay a small fee to the cemetery where the body is currently buried.

It is important to consider the beliefs of both the deceased and their family before you exhume a body. Exhumation is frowned upon in many cultures and religions, and some people just don’t like disturbing the dead. You should consider the feelings of their loved ones and the implications exhumation may have on your relationship with them.

How much does it cost to exhume a body in the UK? 

While the application for permission is free, there are many costs to exhume the body. You will need to pay for the following things:

We recommend getting a quote for all of these services before you start the exhumation process. This will ensure you know the financial cost before you decide to move forward with your plan.

Who oversees the exhumation process?

The exhumation process is overseen by an Environmental Health Officer and a Cemeteries Officer to ensure the process is managed properly and respectfully. Exhumations are usually scheduled early in the morning for privacy reasons and to ensure mourners are not disturbed. Screening will be put up around the plot even if no one is around out of respect for the deceased.

These two officers will carry out a number of checks before the exhumation commences to ensure you are using a reputable company for the exhumation and that the right body is exhumed. The Cemeteries Manager will keep in touch with the family throughout the process to ensure their wishes are respected.

It is worth noting that in some cases, it may not be possible to exhume a body because of environmental concerns.

Are there any notable people that have been exhumed?

Yes, there are several cases of notable or famous people that have been exhumed in the past. We have provided a list below:

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