Merging coroners services will save Hartlepool £32,000

Coroner Malcolm Donnelly.

Coroner Malcolm Donnelly.

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THE wheels are in motion for an amalgamation of a coroner service.

Council chiefs agreed plans to merge both Hartlepool’s and Teesside’s Coroner service in August last year.

And now five months down the line, the changes are yet to be made.

But Government officials from the Ministry of Justice, who are leading and overseeing the merger, say progress is being made and protocols are being followed.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “We are currently working on the business case and merging the coroner service in Teesside.

“We will be consulting with a number of agencies that have been involved in the process.

“It is all being done to improve the consistency of services.”

Hartlepool Borough Council’s finance and policy committee were asked to consider a recommendation that Hartlepool’s and Teesside coroner areas would be amalgamated last August.

And after discussing how the town’s name should remain in the title of the new service, and how the merger would see a financial saving to the local authority of £32,210, the recommendation was agreed.

Chief executive of the council Dave Stubbs said people should be pleased with the move, especially those from Teesside who have suffered with a “dreadful service for several years”.

The amalgamation of Hartlepool’s and Teesside’s coroner services will see inquests into town deaths still held in Hartlepool, most probably by current and long-standing coroner Malcolm Donnelly.

Mr Donnelly intends to remain in his post for at least another seven years.

The merger plans came about following Teesside coroner Michael Sheffield’s retirement in April last year after more than 40 years of service.

Mr Sheffield, who is in his 80s, had come under fire over long delays in the time it was taking to complete inquests, including those families from Hartlepool who had relatives die in unusual circumstances at the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton.

Mr Donnelly, who has helped clear the backlog on Teesside, said previously that a merger was “inevitable” because the number of reported deaths is not sufficient for separate coroner services.