In 1966, Myra Hindley and Ian Brady were convicted of the torture and murder of five children, and sentenced to life in prison. The “Moors Murders”, so called because the killers buried their victims on Saddleworth Moor in Yorkshire, sent shockwaves through the UK, and were viewed by generations as the distillate of evil distillate.

Over the next 60 years the couple became a benchmark for evil, their every move attracting high profile media coverage and renewed public outrage. Brady was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia a few years into his sentence, and spent the rest of his life bouncing between high security hospitals.

He died in May 2017, of natural causes, in a secure hospital in Liverpool. Headlines announcing his death – “Burn in hell Brady”, and “Monster Brady is Dead” – summarised the national feeling. Details of his last moments appeared in reports up and down the country, revealing how the killer’s “dying wish” was to be buried on Saddleworth Moor.

Opening Brady’s inquest, senior coroner Christopher Sumner ordered that the killer’s ashes “must not be scattered on the Moors”, branding the request “legitimately offensive” to the victim’s families. Two days later his body was released to his lawyer, Robin Makin, following assurances that a willing funeral director and crematorium had been found.

But five months later, despite pressure from politicians and the public, Brady’s ashes remained in the care of Mr Makin, who refused to provide details about their disposal. Oldham and Tameside councils raised concerns with senior judge Sir Geoffrey Vos, and requested that the High Court step in to prevent an “inappropriate funeral”.

The decision

In deciding whether to transfer responsibility of Brady’s ashes to the local authority, Sir Vos referred to the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, which states that if no suitable arrangements had been made for its disposal, then a body should become the responsibility of the relevant  local authority.

In order to permit the change, it would have to be proved that no suitable arrangements had been made by Mr Makin. The lawyer was accused of being secretive in his plans for the ashes, refusing to cooperate with, or to provide updates to authorities.

In his summary of the case, Sir Vos said: ““Had [Makin] discussed with the [local councils] and given clear undertakings that he was not intending to scatter the deceased’s ashes in their areas, these proceedings might have been avoided.

“Even now he has refused to say what he intends to do with the ashes if he is allowed custody of them.”

It was ruled that Makin should not be entrusted with Brady’s ashes.

It was also revealed that Brady had wanted Hector Berlioz’ composition “Symphonie Fantastique” played during his cremation. However, concerns about the offence this would cause resulted in Vos ruling that no music should be allowed to play as his ashes were disposed of. Reading from the wikipedia page about the symphony, he said:

“(Berlioz) sees himself at a witches’ sabbath, in the midst of a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for his funeral. It was not suggested by Mr Makin that the deceased had requested any other music to be played or any other ceremony to be performed and, in those circumstances , I propose to direct that there be no music and no ceremony.”

The court noted that while our wishes for the disposal of our bodies have moral strength, they do not hold weight legally. Vos summarised: “The deceased’s wishes are relevant but they do not outweigh the need to avoid justified public indignation and actual unrest.”

The Judge ruled that he should direct precisely how the body should be disposed of, and Tameside borough council was granted responsibility for the task. The conditions of the cremation included that it should be completed no later than Friday 27th October 2017, that it take place out of normal crematorium hours, and that no music, flowers, or photography should be permitted. The ashes should then be disposed of at sea within seven days.

Although this case did not technically deviate from convention, the judgement was unusual due to the strict instructions issued by the judge, and helped to reinstate the right of the courts to intervene.

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