'Implosion' of Coroner's Service Delays Hundreds Of Chiswick Funerals

The remains of deceased residents were left waiting weeks for post mortems


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A Chiswick undertaker has described how an 'implosion" of the local coroner's services for the past three years led to the remains of deceased residents left for weeks in a temporary mortuary awaiting post mortems.

Neil Sherry, of W Sherry & Sons ,which has nine branches in west London, described a shambolic system where a growing backlog of cases resulted in lengthy delays conducting inquests and releasing death certificates.

Neil Sherry

He estimated that several hundred bereaved families in Chiswick may have been affected by the decline in the service, which left them waiting for weeks to organise the funerals of their loved ones.

Calls have been growing recently for the removal of the coroner for West London, Mr. Chinyere Inyama, who was reinstated to his role last month despite being found guilty of serious misconduct, following a 14 month inquiry into his behaviour. The Secretary of State has agreed to meet council leaders and local MPs to discuss the matter.

Mr. Sherry told Chiswickw4.com that Mr Inyama presided over "a complete implosion" of the service which led, at times, to local undertakers having to take in the overflow of the deceased from local authority mortuaries. At one stage there was eight week delay in holding post mortems as well as lengthy delays in carrying out inquests.

He said he believed the problem started when an extra level of bureaucracy was introduced and changes were made to staffing following Mr. Inyama's appointment. This slowed down the service and created a backlog of cases across the entire area. The West London Coroner's Office is in the jurisdiction of Hammersmith & Fulham Council and covers Ealing, Richmond, Hounslow, and Hillingdon boroughs. An estimated 2,000l post mortems are carried out annually in the area.

"From our perspective as local undertakers, the system ground to a halt. We were having to apologise to families who were waiting weeks for a post mortem to take place so that they could organise the funeral of their deceased loved ones. People were lying mortuaries for up to eight weeks instead of a few days, " Mr. Sherry said.

The delays had a knock-on effect throughout the system affecting the families of the deceased, doctor’s, registrar’s and the dozens of local undertakers within the coroner’s jurisdiction and the Coroner's office staff who were struggling to deal with the increased workload.

chinere inyama the coroner of west london
Chinyere Inyama

The coroner, who was taken off the Alice Gross case after he mislaid confidential files relating to her murder, is facing renewed calls to stand down. In 2015 the six councils served by the West London Coroner's office, which includes Ealing and Hammersmith & Fulham, wrote to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) requesting that action be taken against him. In 2016 he was issued with ‘formal advice’ by the Lord Chancellor after an inquiry into the loss of documents relating to the death of Alice Gross. It is believed that he left a report on her killer Arnis Zalkalns on a train which police had specifically told him not to remove from his office.

There had been numerous complaints about him including allegations of bullying, dealing insensitively with bereaved families, sexist comments and a growing back log of cases with new complaints against him published in the Sun newspaper this week.

Hammersmith MP, Andy Slaughter, raised the issue in the Commons this week saying,"Despite previous findings of serious misconduct, three-year delays in issuing death certificates, secret inquests being held at night and important case papers being lost, he has been cleared by the Secretary of State to return to work. Will the Secretary of State meet west London MPs and council leaders to discuss this crisis?"

The Secretary of State agreed to take the meeting.

After further complaints about him were received, he was suspended on full pay in October 2016 but was reinstated at the end of last year without an announcement being made although it is understood that he has yet to return to work. His case was reviewed by the then-Lord Chancellor David Lidington, who became Minister for the Cabinet Office in the recent reshuffle, and Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett who concluded that his behaviour amounted to serious misconduct. However, they did not recommend that he be fired despite the urging of Hammersmith & Fulham Council, which represent the other local boroughs covered by this coroner's service.

Only the Lord Chancellor can remove a coroner.

On December 21 last year, the JCIO released a statement saying that the coroner “had bullied a member of coronial staff and that this behaviour, together with texts and remarks to a second member of coronial staff, amounted to serious misconduct”.

A spokesman for Hammersmith and Fulham Council, which pays his salary on behalf of the five boroughs in his jurisdiction, including Ealing, said, “We believe the best result for bereaved families is for Mr Inyama to resign.”

In an interview with the Sun newspaper former assistant deputy coroner for Westminster, Dr Michael J Powers QC, said, “It is incomprehensible that he has not been removed. Such behaviour is not only totally unacceptable, it shows an absence of judgment which is wholly incompatible with coronial office.”

Mr Inyama, who is married with six children, has a degree in Pharmacology and Biochemistry from Leeds University as well as a Master’s degree in Experimental Pathology before he qualified as a solicitor. He has been Senior Coroner in the jurisdiction of West London since 2013, after two years in the same role in East London.

The Sun also quotes from people who worked with Mr Inyama saying that they had to leave the service because of his behaviour. They claim 14 people resigned because of him including former police officers.

Mr Inyama has not responded to press requests for comment.

January 28, 2018

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