A CONTROVERSIAL coroner who was often criticised for his long delays in dealing with inquests has stepped down.
Teesside Coroner Michael Sheffield served for more than 40 years and survived calls from MPs across the area to quit.
Mr Sheffield, who is in his 80s, finally announced his retirement in March and worked his last day in the role on Thursday.
Teesside solicitor Clare Bailey has now been named as acting coroner until a permanent replacement is announced.
Former coroner Mr Sheffield was previously investigated by Government watchdog the Office for Judicial Complaints as families from the town and throughout Cleveland faced an average 44-week wait until an inquest was heard - double the national average and around two-and-a-half times longer than the 14-week wait for families served by Malcolm Donnelly in Hartlepool.
And, as previously reported in the Mail, the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office confirmed after Mr Sheffield had announced his retirement that another complaint had been made and a further investigation had been launched.
As Stockton is in the area covered by Mr Sheffield, anyone from Hartlepool who dies in the University Hospital of North Tees in unusual circumstances has had an inquest automatically placed into his hands over the years.
Hartlepool coroner Mr Donnelly welcomed Mr Sheffield’s decision to step-down saying “Teesside can now look to the future with confidence”.
And the town’s MP Iain Wright, who has been extremely outspoken in calling for Mr Sheffield to step down, told the Mail after the announcement: “His decision is long overdue but I’m now hoping this draws a line under the service that my constituents have received and I’m hoping to see a new era.”
Interim replacement Ms Bailey grew up on Teesside and qualified as a solicitor in 1999, specialising in family law.
She was appointed as an assistant coroner in 2011 and since June last year has worked solely for the Coroner’s Service.
Ms Bailey said: “I am honoured and privileged to be able to serve the local community and to help lead and modernise the Coroner’s Service in line with recent legislative changes and guidance issued by the Chief Coroner.
“We have a strong team which is looking forward to working together for the benefit of local people.”