'Who's the boss?' row ends merger plan for coroners.
Byline: Mike Blackburn Senior Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
PLANS to merge Teesside and Hartlepool coroners services have been scrapped amid reports of a row over who should be senior coroner.
The merger was proposed by the Lord Chancellor as part of a modernisation programme following the retirement of former Teesside coroner Michael Sheffield in 2014 at the age of 83.
His departure came after severe criticism over the fact grieving Teesside families had to wait longer than anywhere else in the country to find out why their loved ones had died.
Joining the two services, it was said, would help to deliver important improvements to the service as well as save an estimated PS230,000 a year.
But despite the submission of a business case for the merger the Ministry of Justice, which would approve any move, has now said it is not going to proceed.
It follows disagreements between four Teesside local authorities over how the post of senior coroner is selected.
Clare Bailey is currently acting senior coroner for Teesside while Malcolm Donnelly is her counterpart in Hartlepool.
Caroline Dinenage MP, of the Ministry of Justice, has now written to Hartlepool Mayor Councillor Mary Fleet, saying: "Given the local authorities' con-flicting positions, I have decided not to proceed with the merger.
"My officials will write to Middlesbrough Council and Malcolm Donnelly to confirm this.
"While it is disappointing to miss the opportunity to amalgamate these two areas I am encouraged that the close working between those who work in the Hartlepool and Teesside coroner services will continue to the benefit of bereaved people in both jurisdictions. "Should circumstances change, my officials will of course be pleased to work with you in any future discussions."
The Teesside Coroners Service covers the Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton council areas, with Middlesbrough Council designated as the relevant authority.
Hartlepool has a separate Coroners Service, while Darlington and Durham have a joint Coroners Service.
The Minister added that she was encouraged by "the close working between those who work in the Hartlepool and Teesside coroner services" and should circumstances change in the future, then the Ministry would endeavour to work with the authorities "in any future merger discussions."
| Clare Bailey is acting senior coroner for Teesside while Malcolm Donnelly is her counterpart in Hartlepool. But Caroline Dinenage, right, has said she won't merge their services. Below, former Teesside coroner Michael Sheffield