Laura Allen, divisional operations manager for the south of the UK, agreed. “Great update Russ!” she gushed in an email.
The precise order in which clients were offered those choices was a contentious point. Soon after arriving at the company last year, Mr Turnbull sent staff a step-by-step guide to arranging funerals in which he instructed them to present the most expensive package option of all, the £4,205 Classic funeral, before the Simple or even the Traditional.
The potential consequences for customers was not lost on some staff. One funeral arranger said:
“Considering people are so vulnerable when they come in… they might feel pressured into buying the most expensive.”
The “immoral” policy would mean “we’d be on the front page” for “taking advantage of vulnerable people,” he added.
A lawyer acting for Co-op Funeralcare told The Telegraph that the policy was a “local proposal… rather than a centralised policy” and has since been phased out.
Other staff appeared to be less concerned by using sales tactics.
A funeral director suggested that when it came to including flowers in the funeral package it was best not to allow even for the possibility of them using a third-party florist.
The funeral director told staff: “You don’t give ‘em an option, you just say – and which sort of flowers would you like me to arrange for you?”
At the height of the pandemic some branches apparently struggled to obtain flowers for clients, prompting staff to recommend other suppliers.
But in May Mr Turnbull sent an email telling staff they would be “forced to take disciplinary action” for even “one single instance” of staff trying to help families by pointing them towards florists direct.
The funeral director had another tip on how to railroad a grieving family.
Instead of making clear that clients only had to pay half the price of the funeral up front, with 28 days to pay the balance, he said: “I don’t usually offer that. I just get, you know, just shall we take it all in one go now, and they go ‘yeah’.”
Asked what it cost the company to produce its coffins, which sell for anything from a few hundred pounds for a “wood effect” one and go up to around £2,990 for a “White Rose” steel casket with velvet interior, the manager said: “Peanuts.”
“We make a lot of money on coffins,” added the funeral director.
This was reinforced by another manager who said that “as a general rule of thumb” you would “knock off the last digit and that’s probably the cost of the actual coffin to us.” If accurate that would amount to a ten-fold mark-up.
A lawyer acting for Co-op Funeralcare told The Telegraph that the figures on coffins costs were “significantly inaccurate” but declined to explain further.
While black humour is an inevitable part of the job, our reporter found that sometimes this overstepped the mark by ridiculing the dead or showing outright contempt for customers.
Watching one large body being prepared for cremation in his back office, the funeral director remarked on the gentleman’s overweight appearance, laughing that he would have been too big to get in his clothes.
“Looking at the size of him I don’t know how he ever got into his pants but he’s not going to get in them now. They’re only large and he needs extra-large.”
The reporter was told that Traveller families were an issue.
“There’ll be a lot of snotty children,” said the manager. “Yeah, trying to nick the hub caps off your car and all that sort of stuff,” said the funeral director.
“The branch will stink of fake tan and cheap perfume,” said the manager, adding, “but they spend loads of money so it’s fine.”
Furthermore, it was always in cash. Why cash, she was asked? “Nobody pays for cocaine on credit cards do they?” she laughed, implying they earned their money dealing drugs.
Sam Tyrer, Co-op Funeralcare managing director, said: ‘We do not recognise the picture of our professional and caring business painted by these allegations.
“They are unrepresentative of our approach to business, our services for bereaved families and of our people, who are the best trained and most caring in our sector.
“We are conducting a thorough investigation in south London and will take all necessary measures once this is complete. We will not tolerate any individual actions that undermine the professionalism and commitment shown by our colleagues to the bereaved on a daily basis.
“If in any instance we have fallen short of the high standards to which we hold ourselves nationally, we apologise unreservedly to those affected.”