Coroner’s apology for ill-prepared service

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SOUTH Lincolnshire coroner Prof Robert Forrest apologised to a bereaved family for shortcomings in the coronial service – and said his office was unready for a new jurisdiction launched on June 1.

Prof Forrest said he had no secretarial support, no computer system and an office half the size of Spalding’s main courtroom with six empty desks when he started work.

He said one of the coroner’s officers, Jim Bradwell, was off sick – leaving the second, David Lea, “doing a job that required two-and-a-half officers”.

Prof Forrest made his remarks at a pre-inquest review after receiving a complaint from the family of a Cambridgeshire man, David Taylor (53), who killed himself in his car by lighting a barbecue on the back seat.

Mr Taylor, who suffered from depression, was found dead shortly after 7pm on May 30 in a layby on the A1101 Long Sutton to Wisbech Road.

One of the family’s complaints centred on them receiving a hand-written death certificate rather than a typed one.

Prof Forrest answered the family’s queries before being given their consent to press ahead with a full inquest on Friday.

He recorded a verdict of suicide while the balance of Mr Taylor’s mind was disturbed.

Lincolnshire County Council claims the South Lincolnshire Coronial Service has been given its full support.

A county council spokesman said: “South Lincolnshire is a new jurisdiction formed by the amalgamation of two coroners’ districts so there has been a period of transition.

“However, we have been working with the coroner to ensure that this has been as smooth as possible.

“We have had a full-time manager on site to support the new coroner from day one and to help set up new systems.

“They have been working very closely with the coroner to ensure his needs are met, and the coroner has been kept informed throughout this process.

“He has also been involved in all the decision-making regarding office accommodation. The office is a large, modern, open-plan space and has had all the necessary equipment – computers, a fax machine and photocopying facilities – from day one.”

County services manager Donna Sharpe said the authority is fully committed to meeting the needs of the new Coroner and bereaved families.

She said: “We would like to offer our condolences and our apologies to the family at what will have been a very distressing time for them.”

The county council said staffing for the coroner is a police matter.

Phil Vickers, the county’s assistant director for safer communities, said the secretarial support was not available straight away as “it takes a month or two to get someone started working”.