THE controversial Coroner for Teesside has called time on his 40 year tenure of the service.
A concerted campaign had run for several years to force Michael Sheffield to step down from his role but a review of the service last year has resulted in a series of new initiatives adopted in a bid to clear a backlog of inquests.
A statement issued on his behalf this morning, reads: “Mr Sheffield will retire at the end of April this year and extends his best wishes to his successor and to those who have worked with him over the many years he has served the public of Teesside.
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“Mr Sheffield also wishes especially to extend his thanks to Mrs Jacqui Cheer, who since her secondment and subsequent appointment as Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, has helped enormously to assist the Service in its resourcing and evolution.”
The news was welcomed by Stockton South MP James Wharton, who said: “I am pleased Michael Sheffield was able to rebuild relations with Cleveland Police and that things appear to be moving in the right direction.
"He leaves behind a service which still has much to do but is moving in the right direction and everyone involved in bringing that change about deserves recognition.”
The Mayor of Middlesbrough Ray Mallon, who is a former Cleveland Police detective, called for Mr Sheffield to step down with immediate effect in 2012 before writing to the Home Secretary calling for him to be sacked.
Today, he said: “During nearly 30 years as a police officer I held Michael Sheffield in the highest regard and considered him to be an outstanding Coroner.
“I learned a great deal from him and I know many police officers are grateful to him for his counsel when dealing with him in his role as the Coroner.
“Unfortunately, there have been some difficulties with the Coroner’s Service over the past 10 years or so which have been the subject of much public debate.”
Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham said: “I am pleased and relieved that the Teesside Coroner has finally had the good sense to step down and make way for someone who can come in and develop the kind of service the bereaved people of Teesside deserve.
“For too long they had a substandard service sometimes waiting years for an inquest into the deaths of their loved ones and as a result, suffered more than they should have.”
And Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Tom Blenkinsop added: “This is good news for families across Teesside, as I have been asking for Mr Sheffield to consider his position ever since becoming an MP.”
Redcar MP Ian Swales, chairman of the steering group delivering changes to the service, said: “A lot of progress has been made and bringing in a new Coroner should enable the final steps in delivering the first class service that local people expect and deserve.”