Teesside and Hartlepool coroners merger moving closer

Michael Sheffield Image copyright BBC news grab
Image caption Michael Sheffield retired in April after criticism over delays in inquests being held in Teesside

A troubled coroner service should merge with its neighbour to better serve bereaved families, a report has found.

Teesside Coroner's service was the worst in Britain last year, according to official figures, but plans are afoot to merge it with Hartlepool, one of the best performing.

Supporters said it would save about £230,000 a year while offering an improved service for families.

The business case for the move will be presented in Middlesbrough next week.

According to a business case detailing the merger, inquests took an average of 50 weeks to be completed in Teesside last year with the backlog peaking at 404 cases, the worst in the country, while the average was 11 weeks in Hartlepool.

'Service improving'

The report said the service had improved since the April retirement of Teesside senior coroner Michael Sheffield, with the backlog now down to about 50 cases and expected to be cleared by December, and inquests taking an average of 14 weeks to be completed.

Middlesbrough Deputy mayor Dave Budd, who will present the report to Middlesbrough Council's executive, said: "There is now a clear case for a merger to ensure modernisation and improvement continues."

The merger is supported by Hartlepool and Middlesbrough councils, Cleveland Police, Cleveland Fire Brigade and the two current senior coroners for the area.

Savings would be made through reduced costs on the administration of inquests, the report said, as well as an easier process for working with other organisations such as Cleveland Police.

Last year the two coroner areas dealt with a combined 2,975 cases, way below the chief coroner's guidance of one area dealing with no more than 5,000 inquests.

After being presented to Middlesbrough Council's executive on 12 August, the business case will be sent to the Lord Chancellor who is expected to make a decision by December.

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