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Families’ agony of wait for inquests
GRIEVING families are being torn apart as they wait years to find out how loved ones died.
Essex County Council cites the complexity of cases as the reason inquests into deaths are taking up to four-and-a-half years to be heard.
But families, who face years in limbo that puts a strain on marriages and divides siblings, are often left distressed by a lack of communication between public bodies.
Alison Davis, whose three-year wait to learn how her baby Bethany died finally ended just last Friday, said: “It has meant we cannot grieve properly.”
The family of Frederick Smith, who died at Southend Hospital , waited four-and-a-half years before the inquest took place last Thursday.
Inquests, which establish who has died and how, when and where it happened, can require detailed reports from specialists, such as crash investigators, psychiatrists or safety inspectors, which take time to prepare.
Hearings often require the attendance of public servants, such as doctors or the police, which can be difficult to co-ordinate.
Desperate at the lack of communication from the coroners’ office, Mrs Davis, 33, of Hullbridge, asked her MP, Mark Francois , to plead with the coroner to contact her.
But she said it was 18 months before the coroner called to assure her he would keep in contact. That was in January 2011. She did not hear from him again for another 15 months.
The East of England Ambulance Service is yet to produce its internal investigation report into the circumstances surrounding her baby Bethany’s death that it was expected to bring to a pre-inquest briefing earlier this year. The trust said the coroners’ office never asked for the report.
When Mrs Davis asked for the report last Friday, she was told it was archived, but the trust did not know where.
She said: “The lack of communication leaves me in despair.”
The pain of waiting almost drove Mrs Davis and her husband Glen, who had been trying for a baby for five years before Bethany was born prematurely at 22-and-a-half weeks, to divorce.
The four-and-a-half-year wait for an inquest into the death of Frederick Smith at Southend Hospital divided his five children.
Mr Smith, 81, of Bellevue Place, Southchurch, died of infections after a hip replacement operation at Southend Hospital in April, 2008.
The hospital apologised to his family after it admitted failing to follow its own policy and test Mr Smith for MRSA before an operation.
His daughters Sharon Holt and Tina Blue were determined to hold the hospital to account, but dredging up of painful memories was too much for their three brothers, who did not attend the inquest last Thursday.
Daughter Mrs Holt, 55, of Priory Avenue, Southend, said: “It has split the whole family. In the end it took so long because we were told we would have to have barristers. My brothers said they couldn’t take this any more.”
Coroner Dr Peter Dean said: “There are cases I have been anxious to close and cases where there have been a lot of complications to get what we needed.
“You worry about families’ need for closure.
“It’s very difficult if they don’t have that.”
The Echo asked the county council, which took over management of Southend Coroners’ Office in 2008, to explain the length of time it is taking for inquests to be held, but it only provided a statement about the inquests of Bethany Davis and Frederick Smith.
A spokesman said: “Both cases have taken some considerable time to reach a position where the coroner is able to proceed.
“These are complex cases and involve many interested parties and official bodies and the inquests may only proceed when all avenues have been explored and the circumstances, statements and facts are documented.
“We deeply regret any distress this delay has caused.”