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Reporter blasts coroner for withholding pre-inquest death details

David HorsleyAn “outraged” daily reporter has criticised a coroner’s decision not to release details relating to the deceased’s death ahead of inquests.

The office of David Horsley, HM Coroner for Portsmouth and South East Hampshire, pictured left, has issued a note to the press stating new instructions from the Chief Coroner now mean only the deceased’s name and surname, age and date and place of death may be revealed prior to a hearing.

But Kimberley Barber, senior reporter at The News, Portsmouth, has challenged the decision, claiming the Coroner for neighbouring Southampton and West Hampshire, based at Winchester, has implemented no such instructions.

Kimberley says inquest listings for Portsmouth used to include a short description, for example “industrial disease”, which would allow The News to make a judgement as to whether the hearing would be worth covering.

A memo from Mr Horsley’s office states: “Please note that we have received new instructions from the Chief Coroner and the only details we are now allowed to disclose to you prior to an Inquest are the name and surname of the deceased, his/her age and the date and place of death.

“If you wish to find out more about a case, you will have to attend the inquest.”

Kimberley, who regularly attends inquests for The News, said: “I’m outraged at the continuing barriers being put in the path of local journalists by coroners’ courts and their staff.

“We are all trying to do a job to the best of our abilities in the most efficient way and we constantly face unnecessary opposition from these courts.

“People attending inquests are already distressed enough without there being the added unnecessary pressure of a journalist asking questions that could have been answered by a member of staff from the coroner’s court.

“As a proud local journalist I take pride in abiding by the IPSO code of conduct and if anything these courts and their unhelpful ways are forcing us to intrude into grief and shock.

“They should be ashamed and take stock of who they are really serving and what they are achieving by being so unhelpful with journalists’ enquiries.”

Mr Horsley has yet to respond to HTFP’s request for a comment on the issue.

4 comments

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  • March 9, 2015 at 12:09 pm
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    You should be so lucky. When I was editing in Kent not so long ago the east Kent coroner would not fax or email any advance information. Reporters had to phone every week and then they’d only get a name and sometimes a town (east Kent has a lot of towns). The argument was that all information would be available on the day of the inquest. Needless to say, important cases were missed and reporters turned up to cover deaths by natural causes, much to the horror of relatives. I presume the situation is still the same. And yes, we did protest and even asked an MP to intervene. Alas, coroners appear to be a law unto themselves…

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  • March 9, 2015 at 5:55 pm
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    You will find if you read your McNae’s that coroners are in fact very important and powerful. More so than judges. Must be a quirk of history.

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  • March 10, 2015 at 12:42 pm
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    Been going on in Essex for years, where the coroner also holds inquests behind a locked door.

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  • March 10, 2015 at 2:24 pm
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    Very fortunately, the chief coroner, Judge Peter Thornton QC, is the right man in the right job. Although the ancient office of coroner remains powerful and independent, the very existence of a chief coroner provides us with an effective means to challenge the more ridiculous/obstructive examples of bad behaviour. Having met Peter Thornton, I was impressed, and left in no doubt that he ‘gets it’.

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