Support for merging of Teesside and Hartlepool coroners

Coroner Malcolm Donnelly.
Coroner Malcolm Donnelly.

Councillors have reaffirmed their support for Hartlepool’s coroner to lead a proposed merger of services with Teesside.

Hartlepool Borough Council has previously backed town coroner Malcolm Donnelly to fill the role of Senior Coroner in a potential combined service with Teesside.

Mr Donnelly has been appointed since 1996 so if ever there was a person with relevant experience he is it.

Peter Devlin, Hartlepool Borough Council Chief Solicitor

The authority’s Finance and Policy Committee was asked if it wanted to change its stance after Middlesbrough Council said it believes the new head of service should be openly advertised.

The merger plans came about after Teesside coroner Michael Sheffield, who is in his 80s, retired in April 2014.

He faced criticism over long delays in completing inquests, including Hartlepool residents who died in unusual circumstances at the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton.

Mr Donnelly helped to clear the backlog of cases.

And the Chief Coroner of England and Wales, Judge Peter Thornton QC has also changed his guidance on the issue of Mr Donnelly being ‘slotted in’ to a new Senior Coroner post due to the lighter workload of Hartlepool compared to Teesside and other responsibilities including hospitals and prisons.

Seaton councillor Paul Thompson said: “I can understand how Middlesbrough does not want to replicate previous mistakes.”

But referring to Mr Donnelly’s suitability to lead a merged service he added: “We have an experienced coroner there.”

The council’s chief solicitor Peter Devlin added: “Mr Donnelly has been appointed since 1996 so if ever there was a person with relevant experience he is it.”

Any amalgamation of Hartlepool’s and Teesside’s coroners services would see inquests into town deaths still held in Hartlepool.

Middlesbrough council is proposing any merger is postponed if the Ministry of Justice cannot provide protection from potential legal action by Mr Donnelly if he was to lose his job.

The final decision whether a merger should happen will be made by the Ministry of Justice.