WHEN great-grandfather Roland Wise spent more than £2,000 on a pre-paid funeral plan, he thought it would take the stress out of an upsetting and stressful time for his loved ones.
But his last months were spent fighting to get back the cash he handed to funeral director Paul Bigwood, who pocketed the money instead of paying it into the Golden Leaves Funeral Planning trust.
Mr Wise died on Tuesday and his family say they are angry and hurt that he was ripped off.
But they are not alone. Mr Bigwood also owes money to Portchester Crematorium, his former shop landlord at Park Parade, Leigh Park, and Mayfields Funeral Directors.
Mr Wise’s daughter Margaret Hughes, from Clanfield, said: ‘We all discussed it together and my dad went ahead with the pre-paid funeral as Paul Bigwood had suggested. But, a few months later, dad noticed the shop was all shut up.
‘We couldn’t get hold of Mr Bigwood and he didn’t get in touch with my dad to say sorry.
‘We tried to get the money back but it was very stressful for my dad. He was 91.
‘He was very angry about it – it’s a lot of money for an old age pensioner. It was a despicable thing to do.’
Hampshire County Council’s Trading Standards say it would be against the law to say if it was investigating, but The News has been told that officers have interviewed people as part of the case and Bigwood has been traced to Liverpool.
James Clark, manager of Portchester Crematorium, said that in 30 years in his job Mr Bigwood is the only funeral director not to have paid for funerals . The crematorium is owed £1,000.
David Colbourne, owner of Mayfield Funeral Directors, in Southsea, is owed around £3,000.
He said: ‘I was more than willing to help him and offer advice because I didn’t see him as competition. He hired pall-bearers and vehicles from us and we never got paid. But what really sticks in the gullet is that people have not got pre-paid funeral plans, or not got headstones. How could he do that to people?’
Following Mr Bigwood’s eviction from the shop in Leigh Park, Searsons Family Funeral Directors moved in.
Owner Andy Searson, who has a long-established family business in Portsmouth, got to know Mr Wise because he would drop in for a cup of tea to talk about Mr Bigwood.
Mr Searson has now offered to carry out Mr Wise’s funeral for free – even though his company has absolutely nothing to do with Mr Bigwood’s firm.
He said: ‘He became known to us through the unfortunate business of Mr Bigwood taking his money for a pre-paid funeral. He continued to come in, sit and chat, drink tea – lots of it!
‘I always assured him he had nothing to worry about and we would look after him when his time came.
‘Now, sadly, Roland’s time has come and we, as a local trusted family, are sticking to our word. We have offered to Mr Wise’s son to carry out his dad’s funeral for free.
‘I’m a man of my word, and we owe it to Roland to stand by him.
Mrs Hughes said: ‘It’s so kind of Mr Searson, an incredible gesture.’
BOASTS OF SERVING IN THE FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION
Paul Bigwood featured in The News when he opened his shop in 2011.
He helped set up the Leigh Park Traders’ Association and attended social events in the area, including the Mayor of Havant’s Ball in 2011.
A recent CV posted online by Mr Bigwood says he lives in Liverpool and once served in the French Foreign Legion.
It also boasts that while owner of Paul Bigwood Independent Funeral Directors he exceeded the families’ wishes.
It added: ‘The aftercare of my families was as important as arranging and directing a funeral.’
It’s not a claim Roland Wise’s family would agree with.