Controversial coroner criticised for long delays faces Government investigation despite announcing retirement

Michael Sheffield
Michael Sheffield

A CONTROVERSIAL coroner who has been criticised for his long delays in dealing with inquests will face a Government investigation despite finally announcing his retirement yesterday.

Teesside coroner Michael Sheffield has served for more than 40 years and survived calls from MPs in the area and Hartlepool’s coroner Malcolm Donnelly to step down due to his performance.

Mr Sheffield has previously been 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 Mr Donnelly in Hartlepool.

Mr Sheffield, who is in his 80s, finally announced his retirement yesterday.

But a spokesman for the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office then confirmed to the Mail: “The Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) has received a complaint about Michael Sheffield, HM Coroner for Teesside.

“The JCIO will consider the complaint in accordance with the Judicial Conduct Rules 2013.”

The nature of the complaint, made by Middlesbrough Borough Council, has still to be revealed.

Hartlepool coroner Mr Donnelly, who joined MPs including the town’s Iain Wright in demanding Mr Sheffield retired in January last year, welcomed his counterpart’s decision.

He said: “I feel that I am on the record as having said that this retirement is long overdue and that Teesside can now look to the future with confidence.”

A statement released on behalf of Mr Sheffield yesterday said his decision to retire followed the implementation and satisfactory progress in his office’s work after the national reforms which came into effect in July last year.

He will retire at the end of next month and extended his best wishes to his successor and to “those who have worked with him over many years serving the public of Teesside”.

He also thanked Cleveland Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer for her support since her appointment.

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.

That has resulted in him dealing with a large number of Hartlepool deaths following changes to the way the University Hospital of Hartlepool is run.

Mr Wright has previously criticised Mr Sheffield for his “poor service” and said he should have worked to become more like the Hartlepool coroner.

A Cleveland Police spokeswoman said: “We are aware that the local authority has submitted a complaint and the force supported the collation of the information contained.”