THE Teesside Coroner is being called on to resign with immediate effect amid concerns about the length of time it is taking him to conclude inquests.
Michael Sheffield is accused of bringing the service into disrepute by Middlesbrough Mayor Ray Mallon who has held two private meetings with the coroner to express his fear that he is not the man to lead the service forward.
The Mayor publicly called for Mr Sheffield’s resignation at a meeting on Middlesbrough Council’s executive this afternoon (Tuesday, December 4).
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The council’s scrutiny committee has carried a detailed report of the coroner’s service and highlighted several areas where they believe improvements could be made to modernise it and cut the average waiting time for an inquest from 44 weeks to the national average of 26.
Mr Sheffield maintains that part of the problem with the delays is caused by the police failing to provide adequate resources and the failure to provide written statements and other documentation within a reasonable timescale.
However, Mr Mallon said the public had lost confidence in the coroner and urged him to step down with immediate effect to enable a younger person to breathe new life into the service.
He said: “I still hold Michael Sheffield in the highest regard, and I have immense respect for him as the Coroner, and as a man.
“I do not intend to allow the unfortunate circumstances that we find ourselves in to affect the standing of Michael Sheffield, as he has devoted 40 years of his life to public service, and this should not be forgotten.
“However, I now call on Mr Sheffield to resign his position with immediate effect, as it is in the interests of the public and the Coroner’s Service as a whole for this to occur.”
The Mayor’s concerns were today echoed by Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop.
He said: “It’s a frustrating and tragic situation what has been taking place for many years at the Coroners Officer here on Teesside. I’ve raised the issue on numerous occasions and had particularly high hopes for reforms when the National Chief Coroner, Judge Peter Thornton QC, took on that role.
“Unfortunately, the problem has lasted the best part of a decade and many current and former MPs have called for action to be taken to deal with the problem so I am pleased to see Mayor Mallon is now also seeking a resolution.”
Mr Sheffield’s deputy, Tony Eastwood, attended the meeting as the coroner’s legal representative but said he would need to speak to his colleague before making a comment.