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Family fumes after missing out on final farewell to patriarch

They went to Mandai Crematorium to bid a final farewell to a beloved family member yesterday, only to be denied the chance to do so.

The casket carrying the body of Mr Soh Kang Gee ended up in the wrong furnace, out of sight from his mourners.

As a result, none of them had the chance to bid him a final goodbye.

Mr Soh, 84, a retired shipyard worker, died of natural causes on Friday. He was cremated at 9.45am yesterday.

He leaves behind his wife, a son and five daughters, eight grandchildren and a great-grandson.

He was known to his loved ones as a caring and kind-hearted man.

The New Paper arrived at the crematorium at around 11.30am and found about 40 of Mr Soh's family and friends, all dressed in sombre colours, looking visibly upset.

Three police officers were speaking to them.

The police later told TNP that they received a call about a dispute there at 10.40am yesterday.

A spokesman said the officers advised the parties involved to keep the peace and no further police assistance was required.

One of Mr Soh's sons-in-law, who wanted to be known as Mr Tan, 60, said they arrived at Hall 2 of the crematorium on time, as instructed.

They had a Buddhist ritual at around 9.15am before making their way to a viewing room.

Said the self-employed man: "We were in the room and from the other side, the coffin was supposed to come in by itself on a machine to enter the furnace. We waited for 30 minutes, but this didn't happen."

Sensing something was amiss, an employee from their funeral service provider went to check and found out to his horror that Mr Soh's coffin had entered the furnace in Hall 1.

By the time the mistake was discovered, it was too late.

UPSET

An exasperated Mr Tan exclaimed: "The burning had already started. Everybody missed saying their final farewells.

"It's not something that can be replayed. We are all very upset. We spoke to the crematorium officers and all they could say was, 'Sorry, sorry'."

Mr Tan said he was told that a staff member had sent Mr Soh's coffin to the wrong furnace as he did not understand the written instructions, which were in English.

Said Mr Tan: "We have the documents. Everything tallies with the coffin. But he couldn't read."

Another family member, who declined to be named, said the crematorium's management and the worker came forward to explain the situation after they found out about the error.

She said: "The man, who is in his 40s, was very apologetic.

"I heard that he was taking care of several furnaces so the margin for error is high. We cannot blame him."

The mourners were later taken to a room where they were shown CCTV footage of Mr Soh's coffin entering an empty hall.

But this did little to placate Madam Melissa Soh, 58, one of Mr Soh's daughters.

"I'm still not happy although they showed the footage. We missed the chance to say our final goodbyes," the self-employed Madam Soh said.

"Nothing they show us now can change that. This was a grave mistake that shouldn't have happened."

Responding to queries from TNP, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said that it deeply regretted the incident

Its spokesman said: "NEA has apologised for the distress caused to the family. NEA will also be reviewing our procedures to prevent recurrence of this error, and disciplinary action will be taken as appropriate."

An undertaker of 30 years contacted by TNP said this was the first time he had heard of such an incident.

Requesting anonymity, he added: "It is important to find out what exactly happened to prevent further incidents."

Mr Tan said the family wants a written apology from NEA.

Asked if the family will be asking for compensation, he heaved a sigh and said: "Money can't solve this problem."

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