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Camden campaign for out-of-hours coroner service for Jewish and Muslim families wins minister’s backing

PUBLISHED: 10:00 21 July 2014

Meeting about the future of West Hampstead police station at West Hampstead library 07.03.13. Cllr Abdul Hai

Meeting about the future of West Hampstead police station at West Hampstead library 07.03.13. Cllr Abdul Hai

Polly Hancock

A government justice minister has thrown his weight behind a Camden councillor’s campaign for overnight and weekend coroner’s services to be rolled out nationally to meet the needs of Jewish and Muslim families.

Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes, who is responsible for the government coroner’s and burial policy, vowed to look into standardising out-of-hours services in a meeting with Cllr Abdul Hai, Camden cabinet member for customers, communities and culture.

Camden’s weekend and evening services were withdrawn after Mary Hassell was brought in as senior coroner for inner north London, which covers Camden, Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets, in May last year.

The move was met with anger from Muslim and Jewish communities, who believe they must bury their dead the same day if possible. For more than a year Cllr Hai has lobbied for better cultural understanding, out-of-hours availability and non-intrusive post-mortem techniques.

“In a way, the coroner’s services indirectly discriminates against a section of our community,” he told the Ham&High.

“I was reassured by Simon Hughes that he is looking to introduce a 24/7 service. There should be clearer guidance for people who are at their most vulnerable at a time when we should show compassion.

“Mr Hughes recommended I come up with what I wanted the government to put in place so we can have consistency and so there is no postcode lottery.”

An aid told Cllr Hai in an email that deputy Lib Dem leader Mr Hughes agreed with his suggestions following a meeting last month.

The aid wrote: “Many thanks for your suggestions. I know they are in line with the minister’s own thoughts on coronial services.”

A spokesman for the chief coroner, Judge Peter Thornton QC, said: “The chief coroner is working to ensure that coroners receive the guidance and training they need so that there is a more consistent service that supports bereaved families.

“The chief coroner is currently considering the issue of out of hours cover for London.”

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