Gemma Williams has defended taking a selfie with her best friend Michael Dene Ray, 21, while he lay dead in funeral parlour
Gemma Williams placed a friendship bracelet on the wrist of Michael Dene Ray and then took a picture of them together – later posting it on Facebook. A woman who took a selfie with her best friend’s body at a funeral parlour has explained her actions after his family slammed her as ‘disrespectful.’
But his family reacted in horror when they saw the photo, saying it was taken without consent.
Michael Dene’s horrified sister, Charley-Anne Semple, has since successfully demanded the photo was removed from Facebook and is now calling for tighter controls at funeral parlours.
But Gemma has said she didn’t think Michael, who she had been best friends with since reception, would have a problem with the photo and she was allowed to grieve in her own way.
She said she bought the bracelets so a part of her would go with him to the grave and claimed she considered his dignity while taking the photograph.
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She said: “I’ve done nothing wrong and it feels like everyone is trying to making me out to be malicious.
“I didn’t see any problem with putting the picture on Facebook and so many people liked it and commented on how lovely it was.
“But Charley-Anne ordered I take it down. I took it down in the end because another of Michael Dene’s relatives asked me to nicely and I didn’t want to upset her because I know how close he was to her.”
Michael’s family said Gemma caused further outrage when they saw her wearing a t-shirt with the selfie on it – but she said she had been given permission by his close relative.
She added: “She was the one who gave me permission to put the picture on the T-shirt because I wanted to wear something that showed how much he meant to me.
“I didn’t think Charley-Anne would be there and I put my jacket on as soon as I realised they were unhappy with it.”
Gemma, who is unemployed, said she had been best friends with Michael Dene for nearly all of her life after meeting him in reception at school at the age of five.
She claimed he suffered with mental health problems all through his life and said he often told her he felt closer to her than members of his family.
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“He was my best friend, I knew him nearly all my life, and I had every right to say goodbye to him in the way I wanted to, ” said Gemma.
“I helped him through some of the worst times of his life and was there for him at 3am in the morning when he wanted to chat.
“I was devastated when he died but it feels like the family are trying to make it all about them, without considering other people have lost him too.”
Gemma from Basildon, Essex, added: “I just want people to see things from my side of things as well.
“I don’t want to upset any of Michael Dene’s family but I want them to know that I meant a lot to him too and I don’t think he would think badly of anything I have done.”
But Charley-Anne, 25, said: “We feel completely disrespected as a family that we gave people the opportunity to grieve for Michael Dene and it was thrown back in our faces.
“He was laid to rest so he was in peace, not so people could go along taking pictures of him like some sort of attraction.
“Due to his sudden death, we felt it only right that close friends and family had the opportunity to say their goodbyes.
“People shouldn’t be allowed to take pictures in a funeral home – it is a place for people to gather to pay their own private respects, not share it with the world.”
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Michael Dene, from Chadwell St Mary, Essex, was a well-known music producer who worked under the music name DairyDub to sell reggae-electronica dub style records all over the world.
He died on December 21 last year and a coroner later ruled his death was as a result of suicide .
Charley-Anne said: “He was such a happy and loved man. Because of the job he did he was known and loved by so much people in all different walks of life.
“It hit the community, and our family, incredibly hard, but it was very important to us that he was laid to rest properly and given the respect he deserved.”
In the days following his death, his body was placed in an open casket with a sheet over him to protect his dignity while those close to him were invited to visit him.
During that time, a mourner removed the sheet and placed a bracelet on Michael Dene’s hand as well as one on her own and another visiting friend, and the offending image was taken.
But within hours, it had been posted on Facebook and linked to Michael Dene’s private page, for his friends and followers to view.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw it,” said Charley-Anne. “It literally shocked us and devastated us and it’s still so upsetting today.
“I was outraged, and it made the whole grieving process so much harder.
“She didn’t even protect his dignity, she just went on to move his body and uncover him in order to take the photo.
“My parents were heartbroken and that’s what made it so much more difficult.
“Michael Dene cared more about his family than anything and he wouldn’t have wanted this if he knew it was upsetting his parents.
“I asked for it to be taken down and if she had just said, ‘Yes of course, I’m so sorry’, we would have moved on from it.
“But she refused and defended herself, which is what hurt the most, when she was so out of line.”
Eventually, following support of Michael Dene’s closest friends, the image was removed from the internet, allowing the family to grieve.
But months later on June 4, they were “sickened” to find the same image had been copied on to the back of a T-shirt to be worn at a memorial party, held on what would have been Michael Dene’s 22nd birthday.
Full-time mum-of-two Charley-Anne, who is married to Danny, 26, said: “It just feels malicious because she knew how we felt about it being on Facebook, so why would she believe we’d be happy for that image to be aired on a T-shirt?
“I don’t understand why she couldn’t just grieve personally – it’s sick what she did.
“I’m not disputing that she loved my brother but it’s the total lack of respect for his family that hurts the most.
“A parent’s job is to protect their children – why weren’t Michael Dene’s parents given the decency to be able to do that when they were going through the greatest loss possible?”
Supporting Michael Dene’s family, his friend Cazz Nixon, 26, has set up an online petition on Change.org calling for taking photographs inside private funeral homes without the consent of the next of kin to be made illegal.
So far, more than 1,000 people have signed it, and Charley-Anne hopes it will encourage people to think about how their actions could affect grieving families.
She added: “We think it should be the case that there’s a complete ban on people even taking cameras into funeral homes.
“If people want to take pictures, they must have the family’s consent. It is an insult to the deceased for them to be pictured after they are gone because they’re not able to voice their opinions.
“With social media being such a big part of people’s lives today, they must recognise there is a line where it’s unacceptable to take and share pictures in this environment.
“To us, this falls within the boundaries of revenge porn, and should not be accepted.
“We just want people to stop and think about the wishes of grieving families, and we believe most people will agree that this is a compulsory step.”
A spokesman for the National Association of Funeral Directors said: “We can understand how distressing this situation must have been for the family.
“Funeral directors will always try to meet every request of each family in their care, to help spare them any additional distress.
“However, it would be very difficult to enforce a formal ban as funeral directors traditionally leave the room quietly, to allow family and friends to grieve in private.
“Our view is that any photography that takes place must be at the discretion of each family concerned.
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“Sometimes photos are necessary for identification purposes and sometimes a final photograph can prove to be of comfort to families as part of the grieving process.
“Perhaps this particular situation is a good illustration of how important it is for relatives and friends to be aware of the feelings of bereaved families, and to be sensitive and respectful to them in everything that they do.”
The petition can be signed by clicking HERE.