MP takes coroner concerns to Commons

Michael Sheffield
Michael Sheffield

AN MP has taken his concerns over the performance of a coroner to the House of Commons.

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright says he feels so strongly about the performance of Teesside Coroner Michael Sheffield that he stood up in Parliament and asked the Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, what could be done about it?

And Mr Wright was met with a positive response from the minister, who said he would like to meet to discuss the matter.

In the House, Mr Wright said: “The Teesside coroner takes almost twice as long as the national average to conclude inquests, causing further anguish to grieving families.

“This matter has been raised many times with the Ministry. Why on earth, given his failing and unprofessional service, is the coroner still in post?

“What steps will the Secretary of State take to remove him?”

Mr Grayling replied: “I will not give a detailed response in the Chamber, but I am happy to discuss the issue with the honourable gentleman.

“I take seriously any concern about the effectiveness of the judiciary — which is, of course, independent — and I also take seriously my responsibilities as Lord Chancellor. I will look into the issue.”

Mr Sheffield hit the headlines recently after Mr Wright and three other MPs called for him to resign over his performance.

A probe by Government watchdog, the Office for Judicial Complaints, into the elderly coroner is continuing.

Hartlepool’s coroner Malcolm Donnelly himself slammed Mr Sheffield – who is in his 80s – saying he should step down.

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 area, it means that anyone from Hartlepool who dies in the University Hospital of North Tees Hospital 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 Wright told the Mail: “It’s been a long-standing issue which affects my constituents in Hartlepool, so I asked Chris Grayling what could be done.

“To be fair to the minister he answered in sensitive and thoughtful manner.

“He took what I said very seriously and said that if I wanted to meet with him he’d discuss the matter further.

“I think it’s important that myself and other MPs whose constituents are affected by this do meet with him. I’ll be looking to do this fairly soon.”

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