Opinion: The truth about Manor Flats mortuary

Stephen Timms on Wanstead Flats mortuary.

Stephen Timms on Wanstead Flats mortuary. - Credit: Archant

At the end of March, we had a grim reminder of the crisis engulfing us.

A large stockade suddenly appeared on Manor Flats – the open area across Station Road from Wanstead Flats and Manor Park Station, which is owned by City of London Corporation.

It was for a temporary mortuary, providing additional capacity for the Covid-19 outbreak.

Last week I spoke to John Barradell, chief executive of the City of London Corporation, to answer the questions residents have been asking about it.

The London Resilience Forum brings together all the key agencies to manage disruptions in London. In late March, it formed a Strategic Co-ordination Group for Covid-19. John Barradell is its chairman. It is based at London Fire Brigade headquarters, near City Hall in Southwark.

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Four temporary mortuaries have been set up around London, to hold up to 11,000 bodies.

All are close to existing crematoria – Manor Flats, of course, is over the road from the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium. The facilities are for storage only – cremations and burials are in the usual places. Manor Flats is on a longstanding list of locations for an emergency mortuary.

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It wasn’t chosen because it is near the Nightingale Hospital at ExCeL, but there was close co-ordination with them.

The mortuary has capacity to accommodate up to 5,000 bodies.

In fact, only a fraction of the capacity has been used. The maximum number accommodated at all four facilities so far has been 800. Mr Barradell told me the current number was below 100, with about half of the total at Manor Park.

He denied newspaper reports of inadequate training for staff recruited to work there.

It was true – as reported – that staff had been required to sign non-disclosure agreements, but this was simply to safeguard the dignity of the deceased.

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