I just wanted to be part of it. I didn't want it to be something done by strangers…the last thing that would happen to Patricia, where, in a sense, there was some sort of decision to be made. There were certain possibilities, certain choices to be made, and I suppose I just wanted to have something to do with it. I just wanted to say my bit. (Francesca)
In England and Wales, all unnatural deaths are subject to legal investigation, including suspected suicides, and enquiries usually begin immediately after the body has been discovered. The police will take statements from relevant people such as members of the dead person's immediate family, the person or persons who discovered the body, and any other witnesses; additional evidence will include farewell notes or letters, and the pathologist's post-mortem report. The coroner's officer (see below), who acts as the coroner's agent, is responsible for ensuring that the necessary evidence is available to the coroner before the main inquest takes place.
Coroners can be either medically or legally qualified (though, in practice, the majority of coroners currently hold a legal qualification, and a minority are both medically and legally qualified). Local authorities are responsible for the appointment of coroners and for meeting the cost of running the courts; the coroner's officers who staff the courts are former members of the police force, although a government sponsored committee of inquiry has proposed that they could be replaced by specially trained civilians (HMSO 1971).
In accordance with the Coroners Rules (HMSO 1984), the coroner's brief is to ascertain the identity of the deceased and how, when and where they died. The inquest will usually be opened formally by the coroner within a day or two of the death, and this is normally a brief hearing; formal identification of the person is made, after which the body can be released for burial or cremation. The inquest is then adjourned. In the ensuing weeks, the gathering of evidence will continue, and the full inquest will take