A regional daily has protested over a coroner’s handling of an inquest at which he refused to name the deceased person.
The Oxford Mail was astonished to hear Oxfordshire coroner Darren Salter refuse to reveal the name of a dead man into whom he conducted an inquest on Wednesday.
Despite protests from the newspaper, the coroner stuck to his decision saying the dead man had an “unusual surname” and that he was worried about the safety of children who were related to him.
After discovering the man’s identity by other means, the newspaper decided to ignore the ruling and published his name in yesterday’s print edition, although it stopped short from naming him in its online version of the story.
Now the Newsquest-owned title has written a formal letter of protest to the coroner claiming he had no legal powers to make such a ruling.
Section 11 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 states that inquests should be held in public unless for reasons of national security, while Section 10 states that inquests are held in order to determine the name of the deceased person and how they died.
Mail assistant editor Jason Collie told HTFP: “It’s clear from the Act that the whole point of an inquest is to determine who has died and how they died. If you don’t say who has died it frustrates that whole principle.
“We cannot allow this to stand as a precedent. It opens up the door to potential secrecy in the future.”
In its report on the proceedings, the Mail said Mr Salter would only name the man as Christopher H.
Mr Salter told the hearing: “He has a highly unusual surname and it is my decision not to make public the surname of the individual. He is not anyone well-known, just a normal person, but we have an unusual surname.”
The coroner recorded a verdict of a drug and drink-related death.
Mail editor Simon O’Neill tweeted afterwards: “I thought I’d seen it all. But then along came the coroner who refused to name a dead man.”
Rules governing the conduct of inquests were originally set out in the Coroners Rules 1984 which have now been incorporated into the 2009 Act.
Section 11 of the Act states: “Every inquest shall be held in public, provided that the coroner may direct that the public be excluded from an inquest or any part of an inquest if he considers that it would be in the interest of national security so to do.”
In addition Section 10 states: “The proceedings and evidence at an inquest shall be directed solely to ascertaining the following matters, namely (a) who the deceased was; (b) how, when and where the deceased came by his death; (c) the particulars for the time being required by the Registration Acts to be registered concerning the death.
“Neither the coroner nor the jury shall express any opinion on any other matters.”