Council to bury 21-year-old remains of infant without family consent

Parents continue to dispute cause of four-month-old Christopher Blum's death in 1987

  • Wednesday September 24 2008 15.36 BST
Christopher Blum

Christopher Blum, who was four months old when he died

The remains of a baby boy that have been kept in a mortuary for 21 years will be buried on Friday without any relatives present after his family withdrew their consent for the funeral to go ahead.

Christopher Blum's parents have refused to bury their son, who died when he was four months old, because they dispute the cause of his death.

A pathologist named sudden infant death syndrome (Sids) as the cause, but Christopher's parents believe it was linked to a triple vaccination he received hours before his death.

Enfield council will bury the boy's remains in a north London cemetery whether his family are there or not.

The dead infant's father, Steve Blum, said today: "My family will not take any part whatsoever in this extraordinary forced funeral of Christopher it will be just that, a forced funeral. There will be no relatives there, no flowers and no contribution that could be seen as giving credibility to this."

Christopher Blum's father, Steve, talks about why he will not be attending his son's funeral Link to this audio

Blum said he was seeking an injunction to stop Friday's burial. He had previously cooperated with the council over the funeral arrangements but now says he still remains hopeful of further investigations into the cause of his son's death. He admitted that his lawyer felt all legal avenues had been exhausted. Blum has now approached a QC in the hope that he will lodge an injunction.

Christopher's body has been kept in Hornsey mortuary, frozen at 8C and wrapped in a package at the back of an adult-sized drawer marked "Baby Blum: Deceased" that is rarely opened by staff.

Enfield council, which has borne the 15-a-week cost of storing the body, wrote to Blum telling him it wanted to move forward "to laying Christopher to rest".

It tried to include the family in the funeral arrangements, and Blum initially booked a provisional date of this Friday to allow travelling time for his ex-wife Mathilde and two of his three children who now live in the United States. But he said he cancelled it, because he wanted further investigations into his son's death.

The council has since written again to the Blum family, notifying them that Christopher's remains will be collected from the mortuary by undertakers some time before Friday.

"The hearse will then travel to the small chapel at Lavender Hill cemetery where the undertakers will carry Christopher into the chapel," says the council's letter. "At the chapel a minister will conduct a service before moving to the cemetery where Christopher will be laid to rest."

The Guardian understands that a council officer has already registered the death and that the cause of death is written as Sids. The council is permitted to remove the body from the freezer and provide a funeral under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.

The council expressed surprise when told by the Guardian that the Blum family did not intend to attend the funeral. A spokesperson said: "Enfield council has involved Mr Blum in the arrangements for Christopher's funeral. The planned date of 26 September 2008 was chosen by Mr Blum. He confirmed the date in writing to the council on 14 August 2008. The council agreed to this date, in recognition of Mr Blum's wish to allow time for family to travel from America.

"The choice of funeral route and cemetery has also been made in accordance with Mr Blum's wishes. The council very much hopes that Christopher can now be laid to rest with the dignity and respect we would all wish for him on Friday morning."

Acknowledging that he had changed his mind, Blum said: "In this last week, I have been feeling gutted in my stomach just like I felt after Christopher died. Going to the funeral as if to support the actions of the council is out of the question."

On the day he died in June 1987, Christopher's mother had taken him to North Middlesex hospital. He was sick after he received his vaccination for whooping cough, polio and tetanus.

"He threw up straight away," said his father. "They sorted that out and he came home. He was sort of lethargic. We put him to bed about seven or eight in the evening. I went to check him at about half past nine. His fists were clenched up to the sides of his head and his face was down on the pillow.

"I picked him up and as soon as I did I knew something was wrong. He wasn't floppy like a baby, he was rigid. There was blood coming out of his nose. I screamed and went running downstairs with him. My neighbour tried to give him the kiss of life and was pushing his chest. We suspected the vaccine straight away."

Blum challenged the results of two postmortem examinations with the backing of Action for Victims of Medical Accidents (Avma), but the group no longer supports him. His demand for an inquest was refused.

The council has agreed to pay the funeral costs and told the family that "given the possible media interest" it would "be arranging for colleagues to be discreetly available should this be necessary to ensure that Christopher, you and other family members can have a dignified funeral".

Blum said: "Oh God, I am so depressed that this is going ahead. I have had the worst couple of weeks I have had in the years since Christopher's death. I can't believe this is happening."

The Blums' boycott of the funeral echoes that of Jim Campbell, who refused to attend the burial of his mother in Dumfries in 2004 after a dispute between his family and the council over her final resting place.

Jean Campbell's body, which had lain frozen in a mortuary for four years, was buried with just 10 people undertakers and council workers in attendance. Her daughter, Catherine, arrived with flowers after the funeral ended.