'Unfathomable grief': Undertaker fined for leaving baby's body on car roof



Queensland undertaker fined after mistakenly leaving baby's body on car roof  A funeral home director has avoided jail after admitting he left a stillborn baby's body on the roof of his van, in what a magistrate called "one of the most appalling cases" of neglect    Richard John Bertrand, 59, from Gracemere near Rockhampton, pleaded guilty to misconduct with regard to a corpse in November 2018  The Maroochydore Magistrates Court heard Mr Bertrand was transporting bodies from Rockhampton to Brisbane when he stopped for a van changeover at Verrierdale on the Sunshine Coast  It was then he left the baby's body in a capsule on top of his transport van, and it fell onto a road  It was later found by road workers. Mr Bertrand was fined $5,000 for his "total neglect" but had no conviction recorded 'We were assured he would be cared for' In a victim impact statement read to the court by police, the baby's mother said her family was "only just holding our heads above the water after the loss of our beautiful son"  "He had tiny little hands and little feet and his face resembled that of his older sister … I laboured through the whole night with him and at only 23 weeks gestation we were told he would not make it," she said in a written statement  "From the moment he was born we looked at him, we held him and we loved him." The Rockhampton mother said that after such a traumatic birth, she and her partner could not take their "precious" son home because an autopsy was required  "We were hesitant to leave him but we were reassured he would be cared for until he was returned to us," she said  "We were told something that nightmares were made of."'Incredible error' was 'out of character' for undertaker Mr Bertrand told police he was unaware of the problem until he arrived in Brisbane  The court heard Mr Bertrand normally put the bodies of infants onto the upper stretchers of his van, but on this particular night a coffin with an unusually large floral arrangement had taken up the upper rows, so he set the stillborn boy's capsule aside as he was changing vans    The court was told Mr Bertrand contacted Queensland Health to provide an apology to the family, but never heard back  Defence barrister Bernard Reilly said his client was driving his van on the night of his "incredible error" when he received notification his family and the entire Gracemere area had been evacuated ahead of a bushfire  He said witnesses described the 59-year-old's behaviour as "out of character for a prudent professional" and that he was usually "almost pedantic" in his attention to detail  The defence barrister told the court Mr Bertrand had 12 years' experience in the funeral industry, and those who spoke to him after the incident said he seemed "quite upset and in shock"  He said Mr Bertrand had received threatening phone calls since the incident, as well as angry comments on his business's social media page, and had lost an estimated $100,000 worth of funeral and transport business Unprecedented case of neglect with a corpse Magistrate Graham Hillan described the undertaker's actions, while not deliberate, as "appalling neglect" that needed to be punished  Magistrate Hillan agreed with both prosecution and defence submissions, saying the case was without precedent in Queensland and that no other similar examples of neglect relating to corpses could be found  "It's one of the most difficult ones I've had to determine," he said. The magistrate said he had to take into account that the mistake "was quite appalling for parents who had suffered a lot of agony already and to have this on top was certainly an appalling case for them"  Magistrate Hillan said he also acknowledged that Mr Bertrand had pleaded guilty, that he had cooperated with authorities and had no criminal record Call for body transfer standards  Detective Sergeant Paul Reilly said the sentence was "a good result" and that the investigation had been "very trying for all involved, particularly the family"  He said detectives had made a number of recommendations to Queensland Health about regulating transport of the dead    "The biggest thing that's come out of this is that there's been no regulation in the industry and that has probably been a contributing factor to what has taken place," he said  The court heard that there was no formal contract between Mr Bertrand and Queensland Health for the transport of bodies, and that the treatment of the dead was regulated only by the member organisation, the Australian Funeral Directors Association  The court was also told Mr Bertrand had no formal training and had brought in his own procedures to ensure the mistake did not happen again  Sergeant Reilly said police were "very surprised" there was nothing in place.  "No contracts, no training, no requirements at all," he said  Sergeant Reilly said he wanted to see regulations put in place. "In this instance, it took place in a residential yard which, from my point of view, is unacceptable," he said  He said he understood Queensland Health had also investigated the incident and would make their own recommendations

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