GRIEVING families waiting to hear details of how their loved ones died in tragic circumstances have had to wait longer at Southend Coroner’s Court than anywhere else in the country.

Southend is the only area where it took, on average, more than a year for a case to be heard.

The figures were revealed on the day it was announced the court is to be merged with the one covering the rest of Essex.

At Southend during 2012, the average “processing time” for an inquest was 53 weeks – compared to 28 for the Essex and Thurrock area, itself the second highest in Eastern England.

Ministers announced that different coroner areas would be merged in order “to end the postcode lottery of waiting times”.

DerekSimmons, 74, of Spencer Gardens, Rochford, died at Southend Hospital in April, 2010 of a suspected aneurysm.

But it wasn’t until May this year his inquest finally took place.

His widow, Veronica, 74, said: “The fact Southend had the longest waiting times doesn’t surprise me.

“The delay for us was terrible, and I even thought at one time that because it was so long, someone was hiding something.

“It meant I couldn’t get closure,I couldn’t get rid of his things – he was a bit of a hoarder – and I couldn’t start healing properly.”

The family were told a delay in getting the correct paperwork had caused their wait.

Veronica’s brother-in-law, Raymond Simmons, who lives in Sussex, said: “I found it very hard to wait and I didn’t understand why.

“A friend whosemother died in Birmingham had an inquest in a matter of weeks and her death wasn’t much more dramatic than my brother’s.”

He added: “My brother wasn’t particularly young, and I can imagine the severe trauma a delay like this would cause for someone who lost a young relative unexpectedly. It must be horrific.”

Mr Simmons’ inquest, on May 23, found he died “essentially a naturaldeath”due toheart problems.

In 2011, the average wait at Southend was 38 weeks