Get in touch: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting YORK to 80360 or send an email»
Crunch York-Leicester summit to be held over Richard III remains
A GOVERNMENT minister has today said he will broker a meeting between representatives from York and Leicester in an attempt to resolve the row over the remains of Richard III.
The bones of the last Yorkist king were discovered during an archaeological dig at a car park in the Midlands city by the University of Leicester, which will decide where they should be re-interred.
But campaigners say Richard III himself wanted to be buried in York, a claim which has been backed by the monarch’s descendants, and said the exhumation licence unfairly favours Leicester. More than 24,000 people have signed a petition calling for Richard’s last resting place to be York.
Meanwhile, it has today been revealed York Minster - which last month said Richard's remains should be buried in Leicester - has received abusive letters over its stance. The matter is now being investigated by York Minster Police, the cathedral's own security detail.
An adjournment debate in the House of Commons today saw Justice Minister Jeremy Wright say the licence allowed burial in York, and although he believed Leicester should have the decision, he would help arrange a meeting between the two cities with a view to an agreement being reached.
York Central MP Hugh Bayley had said the licence allowed the university to excavate the remains “of persons unknown”, but these had now been identified as those of Richard III, which meant the terms of the licence could be altered.
In the debate, he said: “As the remains are those of a former head of state, the state should decide where and how they are re-interred, and this should not be delegated to the University of Leicester.
“York believes it has a strong case, so does Leicester, so an independent committee should be set up to look at the views of all interested parties and advise the Government on what the burial arrangements should be. The University of Leicester should also be given notice to temporarily suspend any plans it has for the remains.”
Following Mr Wright’s response, Mr Bayley said he had asked City of York Council chief executive Kersten England to form a group, made up of representatives from York organisations and the city’s two MPs, to meet a Leicester delegation. Ms England has agreed to this, saying she hoped the meeting would “take forward how we can best celebrate and commemorate Richard III”.
“Since the discovery which brought our two cities together, we were among the first to congratulate the University of Leicester on its work and have had early conversations with the city council on how we could work together,” she said.
“The Ministry of Justice’s proposal recognises both cities’ commitment to honouring the man and monarch, and I welcome this step forward.”
Mr Bayley said: “If this meeting reaches an agreement, all well and good, and if it does not, it’s important for me to go back to the Government and ask it to make the decision either in favour of Leicester or York”.
He also said most of the correspondence both he and the Dean of York, the Very Reverend Vivienne Faull, had received over the Richard III issue had been “passionate but well-argued”, but some had been “angry and abusive”.
“I have no time for that – we are talking about the last resting place of a King of England and we need a respectful conversation, although it does show how public feeling is running very strongly,” said Mr Bayley.
York Outer MP Julian Sturdy also stated the case for Richard III’s remains to be buried in York during the debate, saying: “The people of York are profoundly grateful to the University of Leicester and their archaeologists’ efforts in recovering and identifying the body of Richard III.
“However, they remain frustrated they were not given the opportunity to put forward their views on where he should be re-interred. Perhaps what is even more frustrating is that Richard III’s own wishes seem not to have been consulted either.
“The decision to allow the University of Leicester to have free rein over Richard’s final resting place flies in the face not only of the tens of thousands of people who have added their support to the campaign to see him buried at York, but also his remaining descendants. Instead of allowing campaigners on all sides to debate the issue in a democratic fashion, the Government and the University of Leicester appear to have hashed out this important argument behind closed doors and concluded it in a sort of ‘finders keepers’ agreement.”
Mr Sturdy backed calls for an independent body to make the final decision on re-interment.