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Peggy Farooqi
Mum of 3 (1994, 1995, 1998)- born in East Germany --lived in UK/ Kent since 1993 -- studied criminology -- love reading / writing / travelling / needlecraft 
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16 August 2014

#8 Murder and/or Suspicious Deaths

In a murder and/or suspicious death, the Coroner's involvement is actually limited.

Any body (quite literally) is, by law, the 'property' of the Coroner. In England, the police will generally attend every sudden death as a matter of course. It is than the police who decide that the death is being suspicious - this is not a Coroner's decision. Often, it is quite obvious that the death is suspicious (shooting, knife wounds etc). Sometimes it is not so obvious. But - not for the Coroner to say - it will be the police who makes that decision to treat the death as suspicious or non-suspicous. The Coroner than only looks after the body for the police i.e. take it into the mortuary. But it will be up to the police to do all the investigations, forensics etc. 

A special post mortem is carried out for suspicious deaths. While the Coroner has to give his/her permission for the special post mortem, it would be a very unwise Coroner who would not allow the police access to the body. In fact, I have never heard that happening, and quite frankly, there is no reason to. Those special post mortems are more in-depths than a 'normal' post mortem. For example, every inch of the body will be looked at (skin), swaps are taken, often fingernail clippings, hair roots. The police will have special forensic guys there for this, also photographs will be taken which may be needed for a future prosecution. So while the the purpose of a 'normal' post mortem is only to find the cause of death, for a special post mortem in addition to the cause of death the police will also look for evidence on the body which can assist them with a  potential prosecution (or, indeed, to let someone of the hook, of course). All those investigations will be done by the police, not the Coroner.

And it is also the police who does the whole 'whodunnit' investigation - nothing to do with the Coroner. 

There are , of course, cases where the police initially deems the death as non-suspicous and than, during a 'normal' Coroner's post mortem we do find something untoward. Rare, but it can happen. Than we report back to the police, and in most cases, the police than order a special post mortem. An example of this might be that a person gets found deceased in his house. No outward sign of violence, maybe he was even known to be ill. But than during a normal post mortem, the pathologist finds a torn liver and blood in the abdomen, indicating that he may have been hit in the stomach. Than we usually stop the normal post mortem straight away and inform the police. They will than take it from there usually. 

A potential suspect who has been charged with the death is, by law, entitled to a second post mortem on the body. This than gets arranged by the defence solicitor. As Coroner's Officers, we just have to make sure that we don't release the body for funeral arrangements for the family of the deceased before this has taken place. A very unpleasant job and not easy to explain to bereaved families that the person who is potentially responsible for their loved ones death is now entitled (via their solicitor of course) to have access to the body. But I always try to tell them that the law is as such, and they surely don't want to compromise a future trial etc. We will try, of course, that this process is going to be as quick as possible. But it does usually take about 4 weeks.

If a person gets charged with the death and send to court, the Coroner will adjourn the Coroner's investigation, and there is not going to be a Coroner's inquest. This is because the circumstances of the death will now be heard at a different court (=the criminal court rather than the Coroner's court). It does not make a difference whether the person gets found guilty or not guilty, only that the circumstances of the death were heard at court. Remember - the Coroner's court is not about blame, guilt or not guilt. It is quite simply to state the circumstances of a death. 

If after several years no person is charged with the death and it clearly is a suspicious death, than the Coroner will hold a very brief hearing (maybe only 10 minutes) where the police outline the circumstances of the death. It has little bearing on a future prosecution and is less or more 'just' a formality to close the case with the Coroner. Also, for the bereaved family of course, to hear some circumstances of the death, but usually, the little the Coroner can say is what they would know from the police anyway (i.e. on 05 July 2012 Mr Bloogs was shot death outside 204 Main Street by person unknown.)

As always, 

Stay Safe! 

Peggy x