Funeral gatecrasher in custody

Last updated 14:08 21/12/2012
Funeral gatecrashers
John Bisset
CHANTING: An unknown man knelt before the coffin to pray, saying God had ordered him to do it.
Funeral gatecrashers
John Bisset
DOUBLE ACT: The two well-dressed men were not known to the deceased's family.

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Funeral gatecrasher tells corpse to 'wake up'

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A man who gatecrashed a Christchurch funeral and told the deceased man to "wake up" has been taken into police custody.

Mourners who had gathered at the John Rhind Chapel in Richmond on Wednesday to farewell Harold Ritchie, 90, were shocked when a man began thumping on the coffin and called for the deceased to "wake up".

The 25-year-old was found by police today while officers were patrolling the Ruru Lawn Cemetery in Bromley, a police statement said. A spokesperson earlier confirmed the man was "being dealt with".

"Christchurch police have removed a man from a city cemetery this morning after he made threats to exhume a body.

"The 25-year old Christchurch man was taken in to custody and has been referred to psychiatric emergency services for assessment."

The man reportedly contacted family members of the deceased last night saying he could "raise the body". Police said he threatened to bring a digger to the cemetery to dig up the casket.

"Police apprehended the man without incident as soon as he arrived at the cemetery. The grave was not disturbed."

After the episode at the funeral, family friend Alex Weaver said Ritchie's family would complain to police about the incident.

He said the incident, which happened when the minister invited people to come up and say a few words, "blighted" an otherwise pleasant service.

"We thought it was all over. Next thing this young fella comes down the centre aisle and shook hands with the people on the left and right of the aisle, the family,'' he said.

''Then, without saying a word, he went up to the coffin and he started speaking in tongues - the whole gamut.

"Then he went on his knees and started praying and laying his hands on the casket."

Weaver said his son-in-law, who was a long-established pastor, was leading the service.

"He looked at me and I looked at him and thought, 'oh goodness, where are we going to go from here?'. Rather than cause a scene we just let the guy go on then cornered him after.

"Several of us gave him a real roasting.''

Weaver said family and friends wanted to ensure no-one else had to go through what happened that day.

"We don't want a witchhunt or anything like that; we just want to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else," he said.

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Weaver said the man, in his 20s and wearing a suit, explained that God had told him to do it.

Yesterday morning, the man's pastor rang to apologise for his behaviour, Weaver said.

Earlier Law Society Canterbury-Westland branch president Allister Davis said police would be "hard-pressed" to charge the man with disorderly or offensive behaviour.

"When you put the death notice in it's an invitation to the world. If you know or don't know [the deceased or family], all can come along,'' he said.

''Unless you specify it's private, I can't think of any offence anyone could be charged with."

- The Press

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