Police and coroner putting problems with inquest delays behind them on Teesside

The Northern Echo: LETTERS: Teesside coroner Michael Sheffield LETTERS: Teesside coroner Michael Sheffield

A CORONER and a police force - who had been at loggerheads for several years - have expressed dismay after their dispute was brought back into the open.

Letters between Teesside Coroner Michael Sheffield and several leading officers from Cleveland Police have been published following a Freedom of Information request.

They highlight the level of friction between the two bodies before positive meetings started taking place in March last year.

For several years, various MPs and families - highly critical at the time inquests have taken to reach their conclusion - have called for the 82-year-old Teesside coroner to step aside.

The wait faced by families is among the longest in England.

However, the relationship between the Coroner’s Office and the police force has developed positively since Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer became involved last year.

A joint comment from Cleveland Police and Coroner’s Office said: “We are disappointed that the coverage has focused on the historic relationship between HM Coroners Service and Cleveland Police and is not a reflection of the current situation which has developed since meetings with Mrs Cheer started in March 2012.

“Much work has taken place between both organisations to resolve previous issues and take steps forward to improve the service delivered to families waiting for inquests on Teesside.

“Last week a joint review of the Coroner’s Service started, which is being undertaken by the Probation Service. This review involves staff from both HM Coroners Service and Cleveland Police working together to identify any areas for improvement.

“We are both fully committed to the outcomes of this review and implementing its recommendations.”

Cleveland Police provides staff and resources to the Coroner’s Office, which are then used to organise inquests.

Over the course of four years the two bodies exchanged letters highlighting the conflicting approach to resolving the problem of delayed inquests.

* Coroner Michael Sheffield accusing Cleveland Police of treating him with “disdain” - and of having “neglected” the interests of bereaved Teessiders. 

* A “desperate” Mr Sheffield and deputy Anthony Eastwood consistently pleading with senior police officers for more help. 

* The Coroner stating that his treatment may constitute an attack upon human rights.

* The Deputy Chief Constable recognising the unacceptable backlog - but saying it is greater efficiency in the Coroner’s Office, not more staff, which will clear it.

* The Coroner’s Office threatening to go to the Press in an attempt to force the police into providing increased resources.

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