Former chief’s call for coroner consensus

Pictured Max McLean
Pictured Max McLean

CRONERS ARound the country are unable to agree on what caused a person’s death - even when presented with identical information, according to a former senior Calderdale detective.

Dr Maxwell Mclean, a former Detective Chief Superintendent and head of West Yorkshire’s CID and homicide team, and formerly Calderdale Police Divisional Commander, has conducted his PhD research into inconsistency among coroners, a topic in which he developed an interest during his police career.

The University of Huddersfield researcher’s work is titled ‘Contradictory croners? Decision-making in Death Investigations’ and is published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology. Dr Mclean argues that wide variability in decision-making and practice has important implications for bereaved families and for the prevention of avoidable deaths.

He has called for a national coroner consensus as a matter of urgency.

He invited all 96 senior coroners in England and Wales to take part in an online task and reach a verdict on three fictitious scenarios that were typical of reported deaths coming to inquest. Every participant was given the same information, but it was randomly displayed so that it appeared differently for each of them.

This was to find out if there were any differences in the way in which the coroners accessed the case information, as assessed by sequence, frequency and how difficulty it was in reaching a decision.

Analysis of the software data on access showed that the coroners approached the case information in a similar way, tended to agree on what was important and did not differ by gender or experience.

But they still arrived at widely different outcomes, a disparity that seems to arise from coroners’ personal interpretation of facts, suggests Dr Mclean.