Families offered new inquests as Coroner investigation continues (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Families offered new inquests as Coroner investigation continues
Dozens of grieving families waiting for inquests to be heard into their relatives’ deaths are being given the choice to have the cases heard again while an investigation continues into the conduct of Bradford’s suspended Coroner Peter Straker.
In the eight months Mr Straker served as coroner, about 30 part-heard inquests were adjourned unexpectedly for witnesses or expert reports.
Now the families involved are being contacted to see if they want to either wait until a decision is made on Mr Straker’s future at the end of the Office for Judicial Complaint’s probe or to go ahead now and have the inquests reheard in their entirety.
Acting Bradford Coroner Professor Paul Marks said he is taking the action to try to minimise families’ distress and sought the opinion of the UK’s Chief Coroner Judge Peter Thornton QC to approach the families concerned.
He said: “Since the suspension of Dr Peter Straker as HM Coroner for West Yorkshire (Western) about 30 part-heard inquests have been identified. I will contact the families concerned and seek their views on resuming the cases.
“Such cases will either need to be reheard in their entirety or else resumed by Dr Straker once the decision of the Office for Judicial Complaints’ investigation is known.
“I am very conscious of the families’ need to have closure following the deaths of their loved ones and I am acting to avoid further delays wherever possible.”
If Mr Straker does not return to his post as coroner, those inquests would still have to be reheard.
According to experts, part-heard inquests are considered “a rare animal” in the coroner's service – in the 15 months leading up to Mr Straker's appointment it is believed there was just one part-time inquest in that time.
Jayne Slade, service manager for counselling charity Bradford Bereavement Support, said: “Closure is important to be able to move on.
“I welcome these families being given the choice. It’s not being forced on them but they have got the option and that is good.”
Last month Bradford Council, which funds the district Coroner’s Service, gave its reassurance that the service to the people of West Yorkshire would continue “without interruption or delay” despite Mr Straker’s suspension.
The decision by two of the country’s top legal officers to suspend Mr Straker followed an exclusive report in the Telegraph & Argus that a high-level investigation had begun into a series of complaints against him.
Investigators carrying out their inquiries will eventually present any findings to the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor who will make a final decision.
Complaints being considered by the investigation team include an allegation that Mr Straker arranged a cab driver to transport confidential medical and police records in an unsecured supermarket carrier bag between two coroner’s courts.
And it has been claimed he instructed those deputising for him not to return verdicts of suicide or misadventure even if the facts proved such conclusions appropriate.
Other allegations against Mr Straker include that he: l has problems with his short term memory, allegedly sometimes having more than a dozen conversations with people where he asked the same question.
l completed forms citing causes of death which were not supported by the available evidence.
l was unprofessional in the way he revoked the appointments of three of his five Assistant Deputy Coroners and appointed a Deputy Coroner.