Just Cremation customers urged to lodge claims after boss Stuart Price’s death

PEOPLE who spent thousands of pounds on pre-paid funerals have been told the businessman who took their payments has died and that their money was not kept safe.

An accountant dealing with the funeral director’s affairs has said the man “would be in handcuffs if he were still alive” and that his estate is in a “sorry mess”.

Stuart Cleveland Price, who died in February and had served time in prison for fraud, was behind branches of the business Just Cremation in Poole, Salisbury, Fareham, Gosport and originally Kinson.

The surviving branch, in Kinson, has been taken over by an independent company which is not responsible for Mr Price’s debts, the accountant says.

David Ross, of the accountancy practice Fair Balance in Throop, Bournemouth, has written to around 200 of Mr Price’s customers to try and establish what they are owed.

One 76-year-old customer and his 94-year-old wife told the Daily Echo they had paid £2,760 each towards a funeral plan.

Mr Ross wrote to customers: “I have to tell you that Stuart did not leave his affairs in order, with a business that was trading beyond its means, and incomplete business records. Sadly he did NOT put your money into a ring-fenced fund (as I know that he promised to do).”

He said Mr Price’s house and other assets were being sold and most of his staff had lost their jobs. Mr Ross and his wife are “working without payment to try to sort out this sorry mess”.

A death certificate seen by the Daily Echo says Mr Price died of Covid pneumonia on February 16.

Mr Ross told the Daily Echo he had been Mr Price’s accountant for around 10 months before the businessman’s death and had not seen full data for most of that time.

He said Mr Price, of Ringwood, had acted as a sole trader rather than a limited company, so his business debts are bound up in his personal estate.

“He’d be in handcuffs if he was still alive,” he said.

“I suppose he would have had to declare bankruptcy and his house would have been sold anyway.”

Mr Price, who was 57, was jailed for 18 months in 2013 for fraud offences involving more than £1million. He had faked invoices for three building companies in order to reclaim VAT.

Mr Ross said: “My wife and I are giving vast amounts of time for free in order to do the very best for people who unfortunately won’t get all their money back but they will get a substantial part back.”

Steven Tapper, director of Poole-based Tapper Funeral Service, said: “Based upon what is being described in the letter, what Stuart Price was doing was not only morally reprehensible but also against the clear rules that govern prepaid funeral plans, i.e. the money paid by his clients should have been securely ring-fenced for future use.

“Fortunately such illegal practice is extremely rare. Readers with funeral plans held by reputable funeral businesses should be reassured that regulation from the Financial Conduct Authority starting later this month will provide far greater security than there ever has been before.”

Nick Douch, managing director of Dorset’s Douch Family Funeral Directors, said: “It is desperately sad to hear that plans people bought might not be honoured.

“For some time we have been calling for regulation of the sector and thankfully that is coming in.”

He added: “Those who take a plan out must know where their money is invested and on request they should be able to see its performance. If the provider can’t guarantee this then there is a potential issue.

“Furthermore, if buying from a third party that claims to be backed by a funeral director, do check that the funeral director knows about it.”

Mr Ross is urging any customers who have not been contacted to ring him on 01202 513666.

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