Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Tees Coroner Speaks out over Delays to Inquests; Area Covered by Office and Police to Blame, Panel Told

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Tees Coroner Speaks out over Delays to Inquests; Area Covered by Office and Police to Blame, Panel Told

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRIS HOLE

TEESSIDE'S coroner's office "begged" Cleveland Police for more support as it tried to cut the time taken to hold inquests, councillors heard. Speaking out for the first time, spokesmen for the service have also described the "extreme frustration" of not having resources made available by the force over "many years".

Coroner Michael Sheffield yesterday appeared before Middlesbrough Council's community safety and leisure scrutiny panel, which is looking into the region's service.

It took an average of 43 weeks to process an inquest on Teesside last year, compared with a national average of 26.9 weeks.

Last year's total of 307 ongoing inquests was among the highest levels in England and Wales - and more than twice the average of 143.

Deputy coroner Anthony Eastwood spoke to the panel on behalf of the coroner.

And he said the delays were due to two main factors - the failure of police to provide appropriate numbers of coroner's officers and the "peculiarity" of the jurisdiction.

Mr Eastwood said the police had not provided the number of officers needed to cope with the workload, said his office "very much felt at the end of the food chain" and had "begged" the force for support.

Mr Eastwood also cited the "peculiar" Teesside jurisdiction for the delays.

Issues included: * The presence of James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and Stockton's University Hospital of North Tees - which both offer specialist treatments and to which patients are often transferred from elsewhere; * The fact that both Holme House Prison, in Stockton, and Kirklevington Grange Prison, near Yarm, are also on the patch. Mr Eastwood said that prison deaths now had to be examined in more detail than ever before; * The area's two mental health hospitals. "They (deaths in them) are very intensive inquiries, and rightly so, and require a great deal of time and resources," Mr Eastwood said; * Teesside's industrial heritage, which led to more industrial disease deaths. …

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