Undertaker swindled 200 out of thousands dies of Covid before justice

Undertaker who swindled up to 200 customers out of thousands of pounds they spent on pre-paid funeral plans dies of Covid before he could face justice

  • Funeral director Stuart Price, 57, was meant to have ring-fenced the money
  • Instead he used the cash to prop up his business, Just Cremation
  • Customers were charged up to £3,000 each for the packages
  • Price, of Ringwood, Hants, died in February and his accountant uncovered fraud

A disgraced undertaker – who cheated customers out of thousands of pounds they had spent on pre-paid funeral plans – died of Covid before he could face justice, it has emerged.

Funeral director Stuart Price, 57, was meant to have ring-fenced the money that about 200 clients had paid him for their future funerals, with customers being charged up to £3,000 for the pre-paid packages.

Instead, Price, from Ringwood, Hants, used the cash to prop up his business, Just Cremation, that had been trading beyond its means.

He launched himself as an ‘independent family funeral director’ after being released from jail for a previous fraud in 2014.

He had carried out a £1m VAT fiddle in his former role as a director of three building firms.

Price died of Covid in February this year and his fraud was uncovered by his accountant who has described the business as a ‘sorry mess’

On its website, Just Cremation boasted of having a ‘respectful, dignified and compassionate’ approach and of ‘putting people before profit’.

Price died of Covid in February this year and his fraud was uncovered by his accountant who has described the business as a ‘sorry mess’.

David Ross, of the accountancy practice Fair Balance in Bournemouth, said Price ‘would be in handcuffs if he were still alive’.

He has written to around 200 of Price’s customers to try and establish what they are owed.

One 76-year-old customer and his 94-year-old wife had paid £2,760 each towards their funeral plans.

In his letter to customers, Mr Ross said: ‘I have to tell you that Stuart did not leave his affairs in order, with a business that was trading beyond its means, and incomplete business records. Sadly he did not put your money into a ring-fenced fund (as I know that he promised to do).’

He said Price had acted as a sole trader rather than a limited company, so his business debts are bound up in his personal estate.

He said Price’s house and other assets were being sold and he was hopeful customers would get a ‘substantial part’ of their money back.

Mr Ross added: ‘He’d be in handcuffs if he was still alive.

‘I suppose he would have had to declare bankruptcy and his house would have been sold anyway.

‘My wife and I are giving vast amounts of time for free in order to do the very best for people who unfortunately won’t get all their money back but they will get a substantial part back.’

Mr Ross said he had been Price’s accountant for around 10 months before the businessman’s death and had not seen full data for most of that time.

Steven Tapper, director of Poole-based Tapper Funeral Service, said: ‘Based upon what is being described in the letter, what Stuart Price was doing was not only morally reprehensible but also against the clear rules that govern prepaid funeral plans, i.e. the money paid by his clients should have been securely ring-fenced for future use.

Price used the cash to prop up his business, Just Cremation, that had been trading beyond its means. He launched himself as an ‘independent family funeral director’ after being released from jail for a previous fraud in 2014

On its website, Just Cremation boasted of having a ‘respectful, dignified and compassionate’ approach and of ‘putting people before profit’.

‘Fortunately such illegal practice is extremely rare.

‘Readers with funeral plans held by reputable funeral businesses should be reassured that regulation from the Financial Conduct Authority starting later this month will provide far greater security than there ever has been before.’

Nick Douch, managing director of Dorset’s Douch Family Funeral Directors, said: ‘It is desperately sad to hear that plans people bought might not be honoured.

‘For some time we have been calling for regulation of the sector and thankfully that is coming in.’

He added: ‘Those who take a plan out must know where their money is invested and on request they should be able to see its performance. If the provider can’t guarantee this then there is a potential issue.

‘Furthermore, if buying from a third party that claims to be backed by a funeral director, do check that the funeral director knows about it.’

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