Hartlepool council drops opposition to merger of coroner services

Hartlepool Council Leader Christopher Akers-Belcher.  Picture: TOM BANKS
Hartlepool Council Leader Christopher Akers-Belcher. Picture: TOM BANKS

Ministers have today confirmed that the Hartlepool and Teesside coroner services will be merged from August.

Hartlepool Borough Council initially opposed the merger but withdrew opposition after being given assurances that inquests will still be held in Hartlepool.

Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, leader of the council, said: “During the consultation on the merger proposals earlier this year, we made it absolutely clear that we would not support them without certainty on the future of services in Hartlepool.

“In response, the Ministry of Justice has reassured us that agreement will be reached that inquests will remain in Hartlepool and that this agreement will be attached to the order which will be laid before Parliament.

“Given that we have therefore achieved the best possible protection to keep services in Hartlepool, the council withdrew its opposition to the merger and now is in agreement with it.”

Teesside’s Senior Coroner Claire Bailey, who has also been the acting Senior Coroner for Hartlepool, will be permanently appointed the position for the combined area.

She has already overseen significant improvements in Teesside, drastically reducing waiting times for families finding out the cause of death of a loved one.

The average time taken to complete an inquest at Teesside has been cut from circa 50 weeks in 2013 to circa 11 weeks in 2017, against the national average of 21 weeks.

Government bosses say the merger of Teesside and Hartlepool coroner services will build on this work.

Hartlepool had the lowest number of deaths in England and Wales in 2017 (246 deaths and 12 inquests opened), and the average time taken to complete an inquest was 15 weeks in 2017.

The newly merged coroner area of Teesside and Hartlepool is due to come into force on August 1.

Justice Minister Edward Argar said: “As a result of this merger, bereaved families across Teesside and Hartlepool will now benefit from a higher standard of service during their time of need.”