The bereaved family of Irish-born Coventry resident Margaret Keane are to take the next steps in their legal battle to have an Irish phrase on her gravestone after permission to appeal was refused by the same judge who ruled against them in the original hearing.
The Chancellor of the Diocese of Coventry, HHJ Stephen Eyre QC, previously ruled that the phrase ‘In our hearts forever’ could not be allowed on her gravestone in the Irish language in “English-speaking Coventry” without a translation, as it could be deemed to be a “political statement” or some kind of “slogan”.
The same judge has now refused the family permission to appeal the decision, forcing them to take the next legal steps by seeking permission from the Dean of the Arches to appeal.
The judgment by HHJ Stephen Eyre QC has attracted widespread concern in the media on both sides of the Irish Sea, and from organisations such as the Irish Embassy in Great Britain, Conradh na Gailege, freedom of expression organisations and legal specialists.
Speaking on behalf of the family, two of Margaret’s daughters, Caroline Newey and Bez Martin, from Coventry, said: “Being forced to defend our original application through a lengthy legal process is an insult to the very memorial we wish to erect. It subjects our family to a painful suspension of the grieving and healing process and feels very cruel. We are a very close family and our world was turned upside down when we lost our mum in tragic circumstances. Our hurt and loss has been made so much worse by not being able to have a final memorial on her grave. Mum and dad were so proud of their Irish heritage and it is so important that their grave should have a loving tribute to them in the Irish language. This will be my dad’s final resting place too and this is causing our whole family a lot of distress”.
“We are very disappointed that we are being forced to take the next steps in our legal battle but we will continue to push for what we, and many others, believe is right.”
Margaret Keane died suddenly, in hospital aged 73 on 29th July 2018, leaving behind a shocked and devastated family including her loving husband Bernard (Bernie), her mother Bridget, her sisters Anne, Cath and Helen, her children Colette, Michael, Vincent, Bernadette (Bez), Caroline and Donna, and her 14 grandchildren.
The family has instructed Solicitor, Caroline Brogan, at Irwin Mitchell as well as Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Mary-Rachel McCabe from Doughty Street Chambers to bring a legal appeal on their behalf. The lawyers have agreed to act on a free of charge basis.
Caroline Brogan, a solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Our clients have not chosen to be in this position, engaged in possibly lengthy litigation in the ecclesiastical courts. They simply filled in what they believed to be a standard form for a memorial and thought that would be a straightforward process. However, the matter ended up being referred to the Chancellor of the Diocese of Coventry, who ruled against them on 6 May 2020. Regrettably there is no simple, quick way of reversing his decision; this is a judicial decision and there is a specific process which must be followed”.
Caroline, Bez and Donna said: “We just want to honour our mother’s memory in the best way possible. We did not ask for any of this and the longer that this goes on, only adds to the pain that we are feeling. We are disappointed that this process continues, and that the family have been refused permission to appeal by HHJ Stephen Eyre QC, now requiring us to apply to the Arches of Canterbury for permission to appeal. We will be taking this next step as soon as possible”.
The family has also set up the Margaret Keane Memorial Fund to honour their mother’s life and to ensure that, after the battle they are experiencing to try to make a final statement of love to her, lessons are learned and other grieving families are not put through this. All funds raised will go to three things of particular importance to Margaret and the family:
1. Fund children from Roger Casements G.A.A Coventry underage team to attend their annual exchange home to Ireland.
2. They want to commission an independent study exploring the impact of public decision making on Black and Minority Ethnic groups including issues of power, privilege and prejudice and its impact on race relations.
3. Supporting further legal or policy challenges to any possible discriminatory impact of Diocesan regulations or practices, with the intention to ensure equality of opportunity to all engaging in such processes.
Margaret’s daughters added: “We want to express our warmest thanks for everyone’s support and through the Margaret Keane Memorial Fund we can ensure that systematic changes are made so that future grieving families are not subjected to a similar experience in future.”
The Margaret Keane Memorial Fund can be found here.