Teesside's coroner faces a new top-level
investigation into his performance - nearly a decade after he first survived
calls for his dismissal.
Judicial watchdog the Office for Judicial
Complaints has begun a new review into Michael Sheffield, the Gazette can
The 81-year-old has been criticised by MPs for
presiding over a huge backlog of cases, meaning bereaved families have to
endure agonising waits of as long as five years to find our how loved ones
On average, Teesside families have to wait more
than 43 weeks for a verdict - far above the national average of 29 weeks and
in excess of the recommended maximum time limit for inquests of 24 weeks.
Concerns were first raised about Mr Sheffield in
2002, and the Lord Chancellor opened a misconduct investigation a year
At that point, there were 239 inquests open at the
end of that year. As revealed in the Gazette earlier this year, the
backlog at the end of 2010 stood at 307.
Five Teesside MPs then called for answers over the
lengthy waiting list.
And the office for Judicial Complaints has now
confirmed that a new investigation has begun after Hartlepool MP Iain Wright
made an official complaint.
A spokeswoman said this morning: "The Lord
Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice are aware of the complaint and have
referred the mater to the Office for Judicial Complaints. An
investigation is being carried out."
Mr Wright wrote to Justice minister Ken Clarke to
outline his concerns over the Teesside service.
And he said today: "I am encouraged that the
minister has listened to my concerns and an investigation has commenced.
"Ultimately, I want this to lead to a better
service for Teesside families who have suffered the death of a loved one."