Man's body stored in hearse overnight because he was "too fat for the fridge" at the morgue. Thomas R Machnitzki

An Australian morgue told a funeral director it could not store a corpse because the body was too fat to fit in their fridge.

Joanne Cummings, co-owner of Pilbara Funeral Services in northwest Australia, said she had to store the 250kg (39 stone) body in a hearse after a two-hour drive back home.

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, she said the Hedland Health Campus hospital rejected the body, with a staff member saying he was "too fat, he can't go in the fridge".

"I actually had to turn around and drive two hours home to Roebourne (in Western Australia) and keep him in my car overnight," she said.

"I had to have the air-con up full and look after him that way, check on him every half hour, and the following morning we hired a sea container with a chiller unit in it."

Western Australia's Country Health Service said the maximum weight of bodies it can handle is 150kg. Officials said they were looking into installing machinery that can handle weights up to 300kg.

Cummings said she had a similar problem last year, after which the funeral directors invested in heavy-lifting equipment which was stored at the hospital. However, the hospital later said there was no space for the machinery so she took it home.

"Over the year the lifting equipment's been slowly pushed out of the hospital, and about the day before this actually occurred last week our lifting device was in the car park - obviously not wanted - so we took it home, and the following day of course we had this issue," she said.

The hospital's regional director Ron Wynn said in a statement: "It's imperative that at all times a deceased person is treated with the utmost care and respect and viewings are arranged so as not to cause distress and inconvenience to grieving families," he said.

"We endeavour to do this in all WA Country Service hospitals."