HARTLEPOOL’S coroner has launched a stinging attack on his neighbouring counterpart as grieving families still face long delays to find answers about the deaths of their loved ones.
Last week Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, along with three other MPs, called for Teesside coroner Michael Sheffield to resign over his performance.
And it comes as a probe by Government watchdog, the Office for Judical Complaints, into Mr Sheffield continues.
And today town coroner Malcolm Donnelly himself slammed Mr Sheffield, who is in his 80s – saying he should step down.
He told the Mail: “It is well established that Mr Sheffield should have retired many years ago. The reality is that it’s been demonstrated over many years that the service on Teesside is below-par.”
Over the last few years Mr Sheffield has been dealing with a large number of Hartlepool deaths instead of Mr Donnelly following changes made to the way the hospital is run in Hartlepool.
As Stockton is in Mr Sheffield’s patch, it means that anyone from Hartlepool who dies in the University Hospital of North Tees Hospital, in unusual circumstances, has an inquest automatically placed into his hands.
Currently families from the town and the other areas Mr Sheffield serves – including Stockton and Middlesbrough – face an average 44-week wait until an inquest is held, Ministry of Justice figures show.
This is almost twice the national average wait of 26 weeks, and about two-and-a-half times longer than the mere 14-week wait for families served by Hartlepool’s Mr Donnelly.
This leaves grief-stricken families with unanswered questions about the deaths of their loved ones and sometimes unable to sort out finances.
Mr Donnelly said he feels strongly that the people of Hartlepool are now being given a poor deal.
He added: “It is entirely unacceptable that families in Hartlepool should be consigned to the morass that currently exists on Teesside.”
But he lacked confidence that the current furore over Mr Sheffield’s role would have any useful effect as there was a similar investigation when Mr Sheffield was aged 73.
Mr Donnelly added: “Mr Sheffield was appointed in 1969 before the law was changed in about 1976 to the effect that coroners should retire at the age of 70. He’s now aged nearly 83. He remains for reasons best known to himself.
“The recent local authority review into the Teesside service has suggested that there should be an amalgamation of the Teesside and Hartlepool service, but they have not made clear the basis upon which that should be the case.
“It would obviously be entirely inappropriate for Mr Sheffield to be the leader of that process.”
Mr Wright echoed Mr Donnelly’s thoughts saying: “The figures are striking and I think Mr Sheffield should be working to becoming more like the Hartlepool coroner.
“He is providing constituents of mine, who are by the nature of this work suffering in grief, with a poor service.”
After repeated attempts to contact Mr Sheffield the Mail was still awaiting his response at the time of the Mail going to press.
l Are you waiting for a loved one’s inquest to be heard by Mr Sheffield? Contact our newsdesk on (01429) 239380.