Delay in burial of leading rabbi sparks campaign for out-of-hours coroner service to return
15:00 13 March 2014
A delay in the burial of a leading rabbi from Jerusalem has sparked a campaign by the Jewish and Muslim communities to have weekend coroners’ services reinstated.
More than 6,000 names have been added to a petition calling for the inner north London district coroner’s office – which covers Camden, Hackney and Islington – to work out of hours after a three-day hold-up in signing the death certificate of Rabbi Nathan Tibor Donath, who died in Stamford Hill on Friday, February 21.
People of both faiths believe they must bury their dead as soon as possible, but coroner Mary Hassell withdrew the weekend and evening service when she took over in May last year.
Since then, the cases of anyone who dies on a Friday afternoon or at the weekend are not looked at until the following Monday.
The issue, which affects tens of thousands of people living across four London boroughs, meant Rabbi Tibor Donath’s body could not be repatriated until the Tuesday after his death.
Jacob Stern, who liaises with London coroners on behalf of the Jewish community, said: “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The new coroner has stopped all out-of-hours contact.
“If someone passes away at 3.30pm on Friday, nothing is done until Monday.
“According to our laws, the person should be returned to the earth as soon as possible after death. Waiting to do a burial compounds the grief of the community.”
Mahmoud Mapara, chairman of Tottenham Park Islamic Cemetery Association – part of the North London Mosque Trust – in Cazenove Road, said: “The Muslim community is supporting the Jewish community on this. It’s something we have been frustrated about for the last seven to eight months.
“Before, a doctor was able to speak to the coroner’s office. Now the coroner has said the office won’t talk to doctors unless they email or fax.
“Leaving aside the weekends, it’s taking up to five working days to get a coroner’s report or an inquest done. It’s not acceptable.
“Our communities are furious.”
A spokesman for the UK’s chief coroner said: “The chief coroner is aware that certain faith groups, particularly Jewish and Muslim, seek early burial and coroners are sensitive to their needs.
“Most coroner procedures are carried out during usual working hours. Out-of-hours working, particularly at weekends, requires additional resources such as the services of pathologists, staff at mortuaries and administrative staff. These are matters for those who provide resources, such as the local authority and the police, not individual coroners.
“Nevertheless the chief coroner is working to see what can be done with these current limitations in mind.”