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Jewish leaders call for senior coroner Mary Hassell to be fired over burial delays

PUBLISHED: 18:58 19 January 2018 | UPDATED: 19:11 19 January 2018

Mary Hassell has been senior coroner for north London since 2013

Mary Hassell has been senior coroner for north London since 2013

Archant

The Board of Deputies of British Jews has called for the dismissal of Inner North London’s senior coroner Mary Hassell after a “deeply disappointing” meeting with community leaders to discuss her refusal to respect Jewish burial requirements.

Marie Van Der Zyl, the vice president of the board, said Ms Hassell, who heads the St Pancras Coroner’s Court, showed “no inclination” to address Jewish concerns.

Under Jewish and Islamic law, bodies must be buried on the day of death or as soon as possible afterwards. Both faiths also view invasive postmortems as desecration, preferring CT body scans and autopsies only as a last resort.

Relations broke down in October over a decision by Ms Hassell to withdraw special burial arrangements that were struck three years ago.

Ms Hassell agreed in January 2015 that most Jewish people who die at home in north London could be immediately sent to the Carmel Funeral Home in Stamford Hill instead of going to a public mortuary as is standard. But the arrangement was cancelled in October after a row broke out about delays dealing with a man who had died of natural causes.

Ms Hassell’s jurisdiction covers Hackney, which has the biggest concentration of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Europe.

The Board of Deputies and the Adath Yisrael Burial Society (ABYS) held a meeting with Hassell this morning in an attempt to resolve the dispute and persuade the coroner to withdraw the protocol, issued this month.

Ms Van Der Zyl, together with Sidney Sinitsky, a representative of the Adath Yisroel Burial Society (AYBS), described the meeting as “deeply disappointing.”

Ms Van Der Zyl said the senior coroner had shown little interest in addressing the Jewish community’s concerns during the meeting.

She said: “The early release of bodies for those families who want it – including Jewish families – is a fulfilment of the basic human rights of family life and religious practice.

“Not only is Ms Hassell failing to respect those rights, but she shows no inclination to do so. She has lost the confidence of the Jewish community, and appears to have no interest in winning it back.”

They plan to write to the Lord Chancellor, and Justice Secretary David Gauke, and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, asking them to sack her.

Politicians have also stepped into the row with Camden and Barnet London Assembly member Andrew Dismore also calling for Mary Hassell’s resignation.

Writing in the Ham&High, Mr Dismore said: “Our corner of London is amongst the most diverse in the country. Ms Hassell’s insensitive behaviour– probably unique in our local public services- flies in the face of harmonious community relations and cannot be tolerated any longer.

“It is long overdue that she should go. The Lord Chancellor should sack her, if he cares about the reputation of our legal system.”

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