Funeral gatecrasher taken into custody

02:39, Dec 21 2012

A man who gatecrashed a funeral and told the deceased to "wake up" tried to bless diners at a Riccarton motor lodge today.

Police apprehended the 25-year-old man without incident at a cemetery this morning after he made threats to exhume the body of Harold Ritchie, 90, whose funeral was held on Wednesday.

The man walked down the aisle at the John Rhind Chapel in Richmond, shaking people's hands, family friend Alex Weaver told The Press earlier.

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

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

A police spokesman said the man had not been arrested.


He had been referred to psychiatric emergency services for assessment.
Ritchie's grave was not disturbed.

Weaver said the man wanted to exhume the body and perform the ritual again because he had called the deceased ''Harold'' at the funeral.

The deceased's name was Malcolm on his death notice, but he was commonly known as Harold.

Weaver said the man had been calling him, offering ''a whole gamut of stuff'', and had offered to exhume the body at his own expense.

''After I got the last call at 11.20. I just turned the phone off,'' Weaver said.

The man had wanted to ''meet the whole family at the cemetery'', and had even approached a contractor to dig up the body, Weaver said.

Man tried to bless diners

Blenheim Road Motor Lodge owner Keith Gunasekara said that at first he thought the man was the boss of one of the companies that had brought in staff for an end-of-year breakfast.

He became suspicious after he went from table to table blessing people.

Gunasekara said he was asked by someone, "Did you organise that?"

Some people were becoming annoyed, he said.

Gunasekara told the man to leave, but he refused.

He told the man: "God did not tell you to disturb others ... I said, 'You're disturbing their breakfast'."

The man eventually left.

"It's the first time I've had something like that happen. It was very bizarre."

Gunasekara said he later recognised the man from the newspaper.

He was pleased to hear the man had been taken into police custody.

"It's a good idea. He got quite annoyed when I told him he was disturbing the people trying to have their breakfast. He thinks he's doing the work of God."

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