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Last Updated: Friday, 25 July, 2003, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Inquiry into inquest backlog
An investigation into the performance of a coroner has been ordered by the Lord Chancellor amid complaints of a huge backlog of inquests.

Michael Sheffield, the coroner for Teesside, is thought to have a current backlog of about 200 cases, taking about 35 weeks before being heard, compared with 18 weeks nationally.

Some bereaved families have complained of waiting over two years before their case was dealt with.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, announced he was launching an investigation into Mr Sheffield, following a campaign by local MPs.

MP's Vera Baird, Ashok Kumar, Stuart Bell, Dari Taylor and Frank Cook had all written to Lord Falconer expressing their concerns about the case backlog.

Whenever I called the coroner I just kept getting fobbed off
Margaret Wright

Margaret Wright, whose 32-year-old daughter Mandi Blake died in November 2001, said it was "about time" an investigation was held.

Mrs Wright, from Middlesbrough, waited 15 months for the inquest.

She told BBC News Online: "Something had to be done. They are putting people's lives on hold.

"I couldn't grieve and 15 months is a long time to be in limbo.

"Whenever I called the coroner I just kept getting fobbed off. They said they were waiting for this or that test.

"The doctors told me seven days after her death it was likely to be Sudden Adult Death Syndrome.

"Why then, did I have wait 15 months for somebody else to tell me the same thing. All kinds of horrible things were going through my mind in that time."

Course of action

In a statement, the Department for Constitutional Affairs said: "Concerns about delays in hearing inquests in the Teesside area have been brought to the Lord Chancellor's attention.

"Consequently, the Lord Chancellor has decided to invite the Lord Chief Justice to nominate a judge to carry out an investigation into the conduct of Michael Sheffield, HM Coroner for Teesside.

"Until any investigation is complete, and the Lord Chancellor has reached a decision on what, if any, action is necessary, it would not be appropriate for him to comment on this case."

A spokeswoman for Mr Sheffield said he may comment on the Lord Chancellor's decision next week.





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