A northern NSW coastal town has been rocked by allegations a local undertaker has been robbing the dead of their jewellery for at least four years.
The 66-year-old man allegedly pilfered jewellery that grieving relatives had asked be buried or cremated with their loved ones.
The allegations have shocked residents of Ballina and led a prominent local funeral home to issue a public statement saying it had no part in the scandal.
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Police investigations began in September after a large amount of jewellery, including necklaces, rings and watches, was handed in.
Police were able to match some of the jewellery with four families and say some of it was linked to people who died in 2006.
Other items are believed to have been stolen more recently.
The accused undertaker is the co-owner of a funeral home that has been in operation since 1996.
Some of the jewellery was valuable, while other pieces were merely of sentimental value, Inspector Greg Moore said on Thursday.
“Police are aware of the grief (a case like this) can cause the community,” Insp Moore told AAP.
“We will leave no stone unturned to ensure jewellery is returned to its rightful owners.”
At this stage, there was no indication large quantities of jewellery had been stolen, Insp Moore added.
Funeral director Scott Steenson, regional manager of Ballina’s Kevin Geaghan Funerals, said his business – the largest in the town – had received several calls in relation to the incident.
He released a statement clarifying his business had no knowledge of the allegations.
“We encourage families to ensure that their chosen funeral director is a member of the Australian Funeral Directors Association and thus bound to provide them with a professional service,” he said.
The accused was arrested on Wednesday following a raid at his funeral home.
He was charged with four counts of larceny and two counts of goods in custody and bailed to appear at Ballina Local Court on January 20.
Police still have a large amount of unaccounted-for jewellery and have urged families to contact them if they fear their loved ones’ property may have been taken.