A British man who was jailed for five days in St. John's after his friend's ashes were mistaken for the drug ketamine, has had the man's remains returned to him.

Russell Laight and his friend Richard Croft picked up the ashes of their friend, Simon Darby, Monday afternoon at the airport in Halifax.

Laight said it was a relief to finally get the ashes back following his ordeal.

"I feel a lot more relaxed now I've got the ashes back," Laight said. "I didn't think we were going to get them, to be honest."

Croft said it's been an incredibly stressful situation, not only for Laight, but also for himself and especially for Darby's wife back in the U.K.   

Richard Laight

Russell Laight waiting at CBSA desk at Halifax's Stanfield International Airport for the return of the ashes that were confiscated from him. (Tracey Jonasson)

"Obviously, [she] was distressed to hear about this whole scenario," Croft said. "She's going through a lot, has been though a lot." 

Laight had been travelling from the U.K. to Nova Scotia to meet up with Croft to spread Darby's ashes. 

But his flight was diverted to St. John's where Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) confiscated the ashes for allegedly containing traces of ketamine, a fast-acting anaesthetic.

Laight was taken to the St. John's lock-up where he said he was treated "a bit like a dog" and a criminal and had all privileges taken away.

Tests in Ottawa determined the ashes didn't contain ketamine, so Laight was released from custody five days later on March 7.

Simon Darby

The late Simon Darby, who passed away from cancer on New Year's Eve 2015. (Tracey Jonasson)

He travelled on to Nova Scotia. At that time he didn't know if, or when, he would get his friend's ashes back.

On Monday morning, the men received a call from CBSA that they could pick up the ashes at the Halifax airport.

According to Croft, even that didn't go smoothly. He said one of the CBSA workers at the airport wasn't very empathetic. 

"One of them was a little rude to be honest," he said. "But it doesn't matter if anyone is rude or upset, the main thing was Simon's remains were here."

Despite everything, the men said they understand mistakes happen.

"We're not pointing fingers at anyone specifically...mistakes can be made."

But the friends do take offence at some of the online postings blaming Laight for flouting the law and not having the correct paperwork. Croft said such documents are "recommended, it is not mandatory."

"There are thousand of people who travel all over the world with the ashes of their loved ones in lockets around their neck," he said.

"We really don't want these people to have to go through the same emotional turmoil that Russell's gone through."  

Lifelong friends

LaightCroft and Darby had been friends since their teens and always kept in close contact — up to and including the day Simon Darby died of cancer on New Year's Eve past.

"He managed to get in contact with both of us on that day, to FaceTime us, and we knew the end was near and six hours later we got a FaceTime from his wife to say that he had passed," Croft said.

"We're never going to have quite the same New Year's Eve ever again."

Now that the men have their friend's ashes in hand again, they're making plans.

They said Darby was an avid bargain hunter who loved thrift stores. 

"He was very selective about what he liked to get. He had very interesting trinkets, knick-knacks and antiques."

The friends said they'll look in the shops for something fitting for his ashes for the time being.

They may also decide to spread some of them in a park Darby loved.

"It's a beautiful place with a lake and rocks and just a typical Canadian scenery, very peaceful and serene," said Croft.

As for Laight and his ordeal in the St. John's lock-up:

"The main idea is I'd like some sort of compensation because they made a mistake, blatantly, and everybody knows it."