Hartlepool and Teesside coroner merger given go-ahead

Coroner Malcolm Donnelly
Coroner Malcolm Donnelly

COUNCIL chiefs have agreed with plans for Hartlepool’s coroner service to be merged.

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

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”.

“Hartlepool has a strong service and it’s been proven that is the case,” he told the meeting in the council chamber in Victoria Road.

“People in the Teesside area have suffered with a dreadful service for several years.

“This is a real positive story and people should be very pleased with it.”

The amalgamation of Hartlepool’s and Teesside’s coroners services would see inquests into town deaths still held in Hartlepool, most probably by current and longstanding coroner Malcolm Donnelly.

Mr Donnelly intends to remain in his post for at least another seven years, the meeting heard.

Leader of the council, Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher, said: “Hartlepool inquests will be held in Hartlepool, and we will retain the name of Hartlepool in any amalgamation of service.”

A business case will now be presented to the Lord Chancellor, who has previously 
indicated his support to joining.

The merger plans have come about following Teesside coroner Michael Sheffield’s retirement in April this 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 is helping to 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.

In 2013, the number of reported deaths in Hartlepool was around 350, roughly half of the number prior to the A&E closure.

In comparison, Teesside has around 2,900 reported deaths a year.