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Police investigating funeral scam as plans costing thousands turn to dust

Probe launched into dealings of Samuel James and Sons Funeral Directors after shocked families discover funeral plans no longer existed

Phyllis Whitburn was sold a funeral plan for her late husband Brian Whitburn, but after he passed away her family discovered the plan didn't exist
Phyllis Whitburn discovered the funeral plan for her late husband Brian no longer existed

As he lay dying, elderly cancer victim Brian Whitburn sought desperately to reassure his wife, Phyllis.

In his final hours the 83-year-old repeated time and again: “You’ve got nothing to worry about, love, everything is covered.”

It was a reference to the £3,900 he had spent on a funeral plan with a Birmingham undertaker.

He had wanted to make sure everything was sorted, and that his grieving widow be spared the pain of making the arrangements.

But his last wish was to be cruelly dashed. The funeral plan did not exist – and the undertakers had closed down.

Alarmingly, Brian Whitburn’s family are not alone. Others have fallen victim, too.

Now police are probing the business dealings of defunct Samuel James and Sons Funeral Directors in Acocks Green.

And members of the public who took out funeral plans with the undertakers are being urged to check that their plans are in order.

Tony James, the sole owner of Samuel James, died in October last year.

But an investigation by the Sunday Mercury has uncovered a trail of despair and unanswered questions.

We have spoken to a frail pensioner who spent her life savings on a decent send-off and now frets about her own funeral.

We have spoken to a family who, at the height of their grief, discovered there is no resting place for loved ones.

And the Mercury has discovered that elderly people left stressed and skint may NEVER get the answers they crave.

The family of cancer victim Brian Whitburn, who died last November, is still struggling to come to terms with what has happened.

Brian had paid Samuel James for a funeral plan as long ago as October 15, 2005.

But things were far from covered – as stepson Allen Drummond soon discovered.

Brian and Phyllis Whitburn on their wedding day in 2001
Brian and Phyllis Whitburn on their wedding day in 2001

He had to witness the poignant final moments, knowing Brian’s meticulously planned funeral would not take place.

He spent his stepfather’s last days hiding the terrible truth from the terminally ill pensioner and his mother.

Allen says he spent those twilight days living a lie and fretting about how to pay for the service.

He scoured his stepfather’s Sutton Coldfield flat for the paperwork after being told Brian had only days left – but found only a bank statement.

That led him to Samuel James’ former premises, and the terrible truth.

His next call was to West Midlands Police.

Not surprisingly, the 58-year-old burns with bitterness.

“My mother feels hurt, betrayed and angry,” he said. “The whole family does. I think mum’s still in a state of shock. I endured night after night without sleep.

“My biggest worry was how to break the news to my mother and, in the end, I just had to sit her down and explain.

“The policeman who came round was scratching his head – it was something he hadn’t come across before.

“The only good thing to come out of this is that it may be a wake-up call to everyone who has drawn up a funeral plan. Hopefully, it will make them check everything is OK.”

The Samuel James funeral parlour on Fox Hollies Road has since been taken over by Powell and Family Independent Funeral Directors. They took over the building, not the business, two years ago.

And they have no link, liability or legal obligation for the former owner’s debts.

Allen is full of praise for Powell and Family. Even though they were entitled to wash their hands of the sorry saga, they took pity on the devastated family and helped them with funeral arrangements.

Brian and Phyllis Whitburn in 2010
Brian and Phyllis Whitburn in 2010

Catherine Powell told the Sunday Mercury that the current police investigation highlighted the importance of dealing with professional funeral planners.

She described the situation as “appalling” but stressed it was extremely rare.

“Powell and Family took over the lease on the funeral premises in Fox Hollies Road, Acocks Green, in May 2012 after the previous tenant, Samuel James Funeral Directors, ceased to operate,” she explained.

“We were alarmed when a family approached us in 2014 with a receipt for a funeral plan paid directly to Samuel James Funeral Directors. Upon investigation with plan providers, it turned out to not exist.

“We immediately reported it to West Midlands Police and the matter is now in their hands.

“As a family-run business we were appalled at what appears to have happened to this family and, although we have no involvement in the situation ourselves, we have done our best to advise them on steps they could take to report the problem, and how to make alternative arrangements. We have since become aware of another family that appears to have been taken advantage of in a similar manner – and we are concerned that there may be more.

“We have the greatest sympathy for these people and hope they get their money back.

“Funeral plan payments should always be made to the plan provider, not the funeral director.

“While funeral directors can help with the completion of the documents, and ensure these reach the plan provider, we always recommend direct payment to that provider. Every confirmed plan will be allocated a certificate with a unique reference number.

“We suggest that anyone in the Acocks Green area who took out a funeral plan through Samuel James & Sons Funeral Directors checks with the plan provider – as indicated on their documentation – that a plan is actually in place.”

 

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