Coroner tells of delay in releasing bodies

AN Essex coroner has criticised the county council for delays in releasing bodies to families after taking over the coroner’s service.

Dr Peter Dean, coroner for Greater Suffolk and South-East Essex, also said family viewing of bodies were cancelled despite his warnings of the impact that changing the service would have when it was transferred to the council in 2008.

However, Essex County Council - although admitting there had been delays in the past - said there were no current problems and it was working towards a more unified bereavement service.

Dr Dean said in his opinion there had been persistent communication problems since the South-East Essex service moved to Chelmsford and the coroner’s office in Hadleigh, near Southend, was closed.

Although he conceded things had improved since the first year, he believes there were still ongoing issues.

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Dr Dean said: “I believe we should provide a caring service and I am very upset with the way things have gone since the takeover.

“It is true to say that the current situation is certainly nowhere near as bad as it was for the first year after the move, but I believe we are still not back to where we were. With the closure of the (Hadleigh) office by the county council and the removal of coroner’s officers from the south-east Essex jurisdiction, I feel we have been prevented from providing the local care and support that we were providing to the public.”

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Dr Dean added that in his opinion the service is managed by staff who do not fully understand it.

He said the process of arranging a post-mortem examination and releasing a body within a few days had “slowed down markedly”.

“As a result of those delays, funerals had been delayed and on occasions families’ viewing of bodies were cancelled,” he said.

In response to the coroner’s comments, Essex County Council said it is working towards a more unified bereavement service to meet the needs of families with as little intrusion as possible.

“There have been delays in progressing referrals from time to time but these are not a feature of the service and there are no current problems in this regard,” said a council statement.

Dr Peter Dean is due to speak about the situation in a pre-recorded interview on BBC Radio 4’s Between Ourselves today.

He said: “I had not wanted to speak publicly about this or make it a public matter. I have tried for two years, initially to stop what I believe is this damaging action, and once it had happened I tried to restore the previous situation.

“Although I was reluctant to discuss it publicly I was asked a question during the interview and could not do anything other than say what I believe the situation is.”

Dr Dean stressed there are no such issues in Suffolk and praised its county council for the way it handled the service.

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