A Birmingham funeral director stole a dead man’s ring before mourners gathered to pay their last respects.
Chris Birch stole the treasured keepsake which the grieving family of Lloyd Edward Butler had requested to be placed in his coffin.
The discovery only came to light when the undertaker of ten years tried to sell the ring to a friend of Lloyd’s at a car boot sale.
Birch, 45, of Lamb Close, Shard End, was jailed for four months at Birmingham Crown Court.
Recorder David Herbert said Birch had committed a ‘gross breach of trust’ and it was important to send out a clear message to people performing a public duty.
Devastated mum Janet Butler, from Tile Cross, said: “It is a terrible crime. He was in a position of trust. I remember him on the day of the funeral, he was so polite and respectful, he watched us grieve and all along Lloyd’s ring was in his pocket.
“He was only found out by a sheer fluke because he tried to sell it to Lloyd’s friend.
“This is the most immoral crime. Detectives explained to us they deal with all sorts of crimes but even the worst criminals would not overstep the mark of stealing from a dead person.
“As a family we are pleased he has been jailed. His barrister spoke about the effect it would have on him, but what about what we have gone through.”
Mr Butler, dad of Lewis, aged 20, and Aaron, aged 14, died on August 4, 2010, while in police custody after his mum told police she was concerned for his welfare.
The cause of death remains unknown and an inquest was opened and adjourned. His body was released four weeks later for the family to make funeral arrangements.
Before the funeral took place on September 6, 2010, Mrs Butler, aged 63, went to The Co-operative funeral home at Meadway, Kitts Green, with Lloyd’s best friend Jo Haile.
They handed over a diamond ring which said Diamond Geezer and requested it was placed inside the coffin along with letters from his family and friends. But the ring was never put into the coffin.
Birch, a father of three, pleaded guilty to theft of the ring but a trial of issue had to take place to determine the circumstances.
Prosecuting Charles Gardner said Birch had intended to steal the ring when he breached his employer’s protocol which stated that two people had to be present when a coffin is sealed.
Defending, Rob Cowley argued that his client had forgotten the ring was in his pocket and when he realised, he lied because he was worried about getting into trouble. The Recorder rejected Birch’s argument.
The crime would have gone undetected if it wasn’t for a bizarre chain of events and an eagle-eyed gold dealer.
Birch went to a car boot in Sutton Coldfield, and tried to sell the item of jewellery to a man who recognised him. Mrs Butler said: “John, who is a family friend and knew Lloyd said to Birch ‘you did Lloyd Butler’s funeral’ but he refused to acknowledge him. He sold the ring and then came back half an hour later asking for it back.”
The court heard Birch had a black velvet pouch and envelope containing a photograph and picture which he was asked to put inside the coffin. He said that he placed the envelope inside but forgot the ring which remained in his pocket. He then sealed the coffin without a colleague present which was a breach of policy.
Despite unscrewing one end of the coffin to place inside paper butterflies left out he said he didn’t remember the ring but didn’t intend to steal it. When confronted by a colleague after the funeral he lied and said it was in the coffin.
He told the court: “I thought I was going to get into trouble so I said I had put the ring inside. I panicked.”
Recorder David Herbert rejected his evidence. He said: “You formed the intention to steal the ring before the coffin was sealed.”
Lloyd, a former electrician, was the only child of Ralph and Janet Butler. The family said the ring was special because it was from his former fiancee.
More than 350 people gathered for the funeral at Woodlands Crematorium.