Merger of coroner services moves a step closer

CORONER CHANGES: Michael Sheffield who retired as Teesside Coroner in April.

CORONER CHANGES: Michael Sheffield who retired as Teesside Coroner in April.

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A SHAKE up in the coroners’ service covering Teesside and Hartlepool has been given the seal of approval by Middlesbrough Council.

A proposal to merge the two neighbouring services has been suggested as part of a modernisation programme put forward by the Lord Chancellor in a bid to cut costs and speed up the delivery of inquests for grieving families.

If the merger goes ahead it could lead to savings of £230,000 a year.

Today, Middlesbrough Council’s executive agreed to support the proposal and the town’s mayor gave his personal backing to the current Hartlepool Coroner, Malcolm Donnelly, to take over the merged service.

Mayor Ray Mallon said the speed of the delivery of inquests across had significantly improved across the area since the retirement of Teesside Coroner Michael Sheffield in April and changes made to the handling of inquests over the previous 12 months.

He said: “I’m pleased to say that since then the service has vastly improved and I’m convinced that is in most part down to the vast improvements made by Clare Bailey who has helped to clear the backlog of inquests created by Mr Sheffield.”

As part of the Lord Chancellor’s modernisation programme, the council has been asked to work with Cleveland Police and other authorities in drawing up a business case for the merger.

A merger would be in line with guidance from the chief coroner, saving about 20 per cent in costs.

A report put before members of the committee showed that the vast majority of interested parties, including Stockton Borough, Hartlepool Borough and Redcar and Cleveland Borough Councils, are in favour of a merger.

As well as the police and local authorities, all of the coroners working across the proposed merger area are in favour of the scheme although some reservations were raised about the loss of some of days made available for the assistant coroners to sit.

Mr Sheffield came under fire during his time as coroner for a backlog of inquests which saw bereaved families sometimes having to wait years for an inquest to be concluded. However, the backlog is now being cleared.

A detailed business case for the proposed merger will now be submitted to the Lord Chancellor, expected to make a decision by December.

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