Troubled Teesside coroner service to merge with Hartlepool

Michael Sheffield, left and Claire Bailey
Image caption Claire Bailey replaced coroner Michael Sheffield after he retired in 2014

A coroner's service that was the subject of an inquiry over a backlog of more than 400 cases is to merge with its neighbour.

The Teesside service was labelled the worst in Britain in 2013, with official figures showing it took an average of 50 weeks for inquests to be completed.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has now confirmed the Teesside service will merge with neighbouring Hartlepool.

The move will "ease the pain of the bereaved", the MoJ said.

Consultation on a proposed merger began in 2015, but stalled after Hartlepool Council withdrew its backing amid fears inquests would be moved out of the town permanently.

'Additional stress'

Justice Minister Edward Argar has given assurances that hearings will continue to be held in Hartlepool when the services merge in August.

Previous senior coroner Michael Sheffield stood down in April 2014 and was replaced by Claire Bailey.

Mr Argar said since Ms Bailey took over "significant improvements" had been made with the average time taken to complete an inquest cut to 11 weeks.

He added: "We are reforming the coroner system to ensure those who are grieving do not face the additional stress of poor service and lengthy inquest delays.

"As a result of this merger, bereaved families across Teesside and Hartlepool will now benefit from a higher standard of service during their time of need."

The current Teesside Coroner's Service covers the Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton Council areas.

Hartlepool has a separate coroner's service, which has been ranked as one of the best in the country.

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