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Court reporter raises concerns over ‘private’ inquests

Charlie_Moloney_Headshot (5)A court reporter has raised concerns about a lack of transparency in the new ‘inquests in writing’ after reporting on the death of a man who died skiing in the French alps.

Traditionally, inquests have been held in open court and any member of the public can attend. But in June 2022 new provisions came into effect allowing inquests to be held in writing.

This means a coroner can conclude an inquest in private in certain types of cases where they consider there is no real prospect of disagreement as to the inquest’s determinations or findings and no public interest would be served by a hearing.

But freelance court reporter Charlie Moloney has raised concerns about the lack of information available from private hearings, after breaking the news that a former publishing executive had died while skiing in the French alps.

Charlie, pictured, had spotted that Simon Helliwell’s inquest was due to be held in writing and had written into the Berkshire coroner’s office asking for details.

Said Charlie: “It was the kind of case that usually the local and national media would have taken a real interest in. But because it was held ‘in writing’, almost none of the facts were provided.”

The Area Coroner for Berkshire, Hannah Godfrey, had concluded in an inquest in writing that Mr Helliwell died of the injuries he sustained during a fall in Epagny Metz Tessy.

She had begun investigating the case on in February but, after a public inquest was opened on 9th April, it was decided the investigation could be concluded in writing.

Ms Godfrey’s office duly provided the record of inquest, a document which provides a one-sentence summary of the circumstances of the death, the cause of death and the coroner’s conclusion.

Said Charlie: “We had none of the human interest detail which public inquests typically provide. A newspaper I sent the story to asked whether Mr Helliwell had been on holiday with friends or family, but I had to tell them I had no idea because the record of inquest is not that detailed.”

The Chief Coroner’s guidance has said cases in which inquests in writing may be appropriate are straightforward drugs deaths with no concerns surrounding the role of addiction services or healthcare provision and suicides in the community where the events are clear and no actions of a third party have given rise to concern.

But Charlie queried whether more information should be given to the media in such cases.

He told HTFP: “I have seen inquests in writing being conducted for people who are really young. In one case, an inquest for a 28-year-old who died by suicide having suffocated himself was held in writing.

“It is hard to accept that a mere one-page document with some formal details is sufficient to really help the public understand what has happened in terms of the tragic death of someone so young.

“I would call on coroners holding inquests in writing to provide the press with their findings of fact in every case when it is requested.

“I know they are able to do this because I have been provided it before, but at the moment it only seems to be provided when the coroner deems it appropriate.”

Until December 2022, Mr Helliwell had held the role of executive vice-president, human resources at Elsevier, the scientific publishing giant.

In December 2022 he was appointed chief people officer at Silverstream Technologies, a market leader in air lubrication technology for the global shipping industry.