Leeds war veteran’s funeral fund frozen

GRIEVING: Daughters  (from left) Sonia Longbottom, 43, Christine Lawson, 52 and Maria Cockerham, 40, at the graveside of their father George at Hunslet Cemetery.

GRIEVING: Daughters (from left) Sonia Longbottom, 43, Christine Lawson, 52 and Maria Cockerham, 40, at the graveside of their father George at Hunslet Cemetery.

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BANK bosses left a Second World War veteran’s burial in jeopardy after freezing his funeral fund at the 11th hour.

Grieving relatives of George Gittins, right, an 85-year-old former Black Watch soldier, feared they would have to scrap his final send-off when HSBC said it would not release the £6,000.

The bank told the family it needed written approval from all 12 of Mr Gittins’ legal next of kin – because the cost was “a lot higher than normal” – the day before his funeral.

The news came after a plot had been opened up next to the grave of Mr Gittins’s wife, Violet, and daughter, Janice, at Hunslet Cemetery.

Mr Gittins, of Cookridge, was yesterday laid to rest after Beeston funeral home W Kaye and Sons took the unusual step of conducting the funeral before payment.

But Mr Gittins’s three stepdaughters, Maria Cockerham, Christine Lawson and Sonia Longbottom, are disgusted at the bank.

Mrs Cockerham, 40, of East Grange Close in Belle Isle, said: “It’s appalling they can withhold money of a dead war veteran and to leave it until the last minute to say so. We’re absolutely devastated.”

Mr Gittins died of lymphoma, a type of cancer, on May 13, without leaving a will.

The former Benjamin Gott High School, Armley, caretaker had saved £21,000 in an HSBC account.

According to the family, the bank originally told them to organise the funeral and then invoice the company to cover the costs.

The ceremony was to be held at St Mary’s Church in Middleton and the cortege would include a horse-drawn carriage. Limousines were hired to transport the family. In total the cost came to £6,427. But on Wednesday morning HSBC called Mrs Cockerham to say it would only cover part of the cost.

Later in the day she was told none of the money would be paid until all of Mr Gittins’s stepdaughters and his nine children from a previous marriage filled in forms.

She was told that process would take weeks.

Mrs Longbottom, 43, said: “Where did they think we were going get the money from at that stage?”

But Mrs Longbottom’s husband, Ray, said: “If the funeral directors hadn’t done what they did, what were HSBC expecting us to do with his body, just let it rot?”

A HSBC spokesman said: “We have not refused to release money to pay for the funeral expenses, but because they are a lot higher than normal we just need to receive the approval from all the legal next of kin.

“Once we have this approval we will be in a position to release the funds. Obviously our thoughts are with the family at this sad time.”

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