Family in the UK fight to give deceased 75-year-old expat a proper funeral after passport mix up

UK Embassy in Bangkok has confirmed it is working to assist the family in this matter and to find a solution to their predicament. The 37-year-old stepdaughter of the British man insists that a funeral is a ‘basic human right’ that the family needs to have for Mr Donoghue this week. 

The UK family of an expat who lived in Phuket for 15 years and passed away in February, is desperately pleading with both authorities at the hospital where he died and UK diplomatic personnel to have his remains, which are due to be part of a mass cremation on Wednesday, released for a private service after an issue arose over his passport details.

75-year old David Donoghue, a former member of the tourist police, passed away on February 15th last after being taken to Phuket hospital in an ambulance with his previous and expired UK passport. Now his stepdaughter, 37-year-old Gemma Swift (inset right), cannot get his body released before a mass cremation by the hospital as the UK Embassy can only confirm his new passport which he never received because of the Covid-19 emergency.

The British Embassy in Bangkok is in a race against the clock to solve a red tape knot that may see the remains of a UK expat, who died in February, cremated on Wednesday in a mass operation at his local hospital against his family’s wishes at home who want him to have a private cremation so that his ashes can be returned to the United Kingdom.

75-year old David Donoghue, who died on February 15th last, had a chronic inflammatory lung condition called Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

He was taken to hospital last month but only had with him his expired UK passport when he passed away.

Covid-19 lockdown causing expat passports to be late

At present, because of the Covid-19 virus and lockdowns in western countries such as the UK, there have been difficulties in processing and posting out new passports to foreigners living abroad. 

This is the nub of the problem his family ran into. 

The hospital’s funeral director insisted that to release the body, it would need a letter from the UK Embassy in Bangkok confirming the man’s passport details.

The UK embassy was only able to provide a letter concerning Mr Donoghue’s identity with his newly issued passport which he had not received before he passed away.

Lived in Bury Greater Manchester before moving to Phuket 15 years ago when he was 60 years old

The UK man lived for the last 15 years in Phuket having retired there from Bury in Greater Manchester where he lived until he was 60 years of age.

He was an active member of the town’s Tourist Police on the Yaowarat Road, a division of the Royal Thai Police that assists tourists and foreigners living in Thailand.

Stepdaughter expressed frustration at paperwork tangle that means David may not get a funeral

His stepdaughter, 37-year-old Gemma Swift, at home in the United Kingdom, has expressed her frustration at trying to resolve the issue against the clock, being thousands of miles away.

‘The British Embassy over in Bangkok, they said that because the number was from his current passport, they were unable to change the letter,’ she explained. ‘They have said that they won’t reissue a letter with the passport number that he’s got in the hospital with him.’

Plan to bring his ashes back to Thailand with them on a holiday once the Covid-19 crisis ends

The family say they are unable to travel to Thailand right now because of the restrictions on entry including the 14-day quarantine requirement.

Ms Swift revealed the family traveled often to Phuket to visit Mr Donoghue before the Covid-19 crisis intervened since early last year.

They wish to have him cremated in a private ceremony in Phuket and have his ashes sent back to the United Kingdom.

Ms Swift and Mr Donoghue’s other relations then plan to bring the ashes back with them to Thailand on a holiday when the country reopens and spread them in the place he loved and lived so happily in.

Funeral service is a ‘basic human right’

Ms Swift simply cannot understand the reason for the problem and the lack of regard for the rights and dignity of her stepfather.

‘I thought this was a basic human right to be able to give somebody a funeral and I accept that there is always going to be red tape, but please just issue a letter and let us bring him home,’ she urged while speaking on BBC Wales to highlight the case.

The UK Embassy in Bangkok has confirmed it is working with the family to achieve a satisfactory resolution to the ordeal.

 ‘We are assisting the family of a British man following his death in Thailand and our thoughts are with them at this deeply difficult time,’ a statement said. ‘Our staff are in contact with the local hospital and funeral director to help his family obtain the necessary paperwork to ensure his body is treated in line with their wishes.’

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Further reading:

Growing concern and frustration among a large number of expats cut off from their families in Thailand

About the Author

James Morris is a pename for an international writer based in Bangkok who works on various international news media. He is a sub editor with the Thai Examiner news website since it began in 2015. Son Nguyen is an international writer and news commentator specialising in Thai news and current affairs. He commenced working with the Thai Examiner News Desk in May 2018.


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