Proposed merger of coroner services for Hartlepool has been shelved by the Government

Coroner Malcolm Donnelly.
Coroner Malcolm Donnelly.

A proposed merger of Hartlepool and Teesside coroner services will not go ahead after disagreement among local councils about how its leader should be chosen.

Plans for an amalgamation were developed over the last two years after Teesside’s under-fire coroner retired leaving a large backlog of inquests.

Given the local authorities’ conflicting positions, I have decided not to proceed with the merger

Caroline Dinenage MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State

It was said a merger would help speed up inquiries into sudden deaths, save money and bring about a better service for grieving families.

More Hartlepool cases have been dealt with by the Teesside service following the closure of Hartlepool hospital’s A&E department.

But the Ministry of Justice, which would approve any merger, says it is not going to proceed at this time.

It follows disagreements between Hartlepool and councils in three other areas affected, over how the post of Senior Coroner is selected.

Hartlepool Borough Council said Hartlepool’s Senior Coroner Malcolm Donnelly should automatically fill the role.

But Middlesbrough, Stockton and Redcar & Cleveland authorities said it should be advertised openly to make sure they got the best candidate.

In a letter to Hartlepool Mayor Councillor Mary Fleet, Caroline Dinenage MP, of the Ministry of Justice, said: “Given the local authorities’ conflicting positions, I have decided not to proceed with the merger.

“My officials will write to Middlesbrough Council and Malcolm Donnelly to confirm this.

“While it is disappointing to miss the opportunity to amalgamate these two areas I am encouraged that the close working between those who work in the Hartlepool and Teesside coroner services will continue to the benefit of bereaved people in both jurisdictions.

“Should circumstances change, my officials will of course be pleased to work with you in any future discussions.”

The amalgamation of Hartlepool’s and Teesside’s coroners services would still have seen inquests into town deaths held in Hartlepool.

And a report that went before Hartlepool council in January said a number of benefits of the merger had already been achieved including inquests being dealt with more quickly, cost savings and a more streamlined service.

Ms Dinenage, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women, Equalities and Family Justice, paid tribute to Mr Donnelly who helped to clear Teesside’s backlog of cases.

She added: “I am grateful for the dedication and continued hard work during this time and I would like to reassure Mr Donnelly that this outcome is not seen as a reflection of his judgement, work or experience as a Senior Coroner.”

The update is included on the agenda for Tuesday’s full council meeting.

Mr Donnelly was not available for comment yesterday.