Yellow Advertiser wins FoI battle for council information about delays investigating deaths

Essex-based weekly newsper tbe Yellow Advertiser has won a 19-month battle to secure the release of documents detailing 60 complaints made against Essex coroners service.

The Information Commissioner's office has sided with the paper and ruled that Essex Council erred in law when it failed to release documents requested by the paper under the Freedom of Information Act in June 2014.

The paper reports that the documents reveal families waiting up to six years for investigations into relatives' deaths to be concluded.

The documents also reveal complaints about poor communication between the coroner and families as well as the press.

The Advertiser requested details of complaints made about a month after senior Essex coroner Caroline Beasley-Murray received an official sanction from the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office, for delaying an inquest.

The coroners service is not covered by the the Freedom of Information Act so the YA requested information held by Essex Council, to which the service is attached.
The authority had a legal duty to respond within 20 working days, but took 11 months to refuse on the grounds that the information was "personal".

But the ICO said in a ruling: "The commissioner was concerned that on two occasions as the investigation progressed, the commissioner identified a substantial amount of additional information that was held by the council, falling within the scope of the request.

“Regrettably, these errors have further compounded the substantial initial delay that the complainant experienced whilst awaiting a response to this request. The commissioner trusts that the council will make improvements in its handling of requests in the future.”

Asked to comment on the ruling, Essex Council said it 'acknowledged and fully accepted' the findings.

Essex Council as apologised and said that a new coroner's website is soon to go live "which will provide important and real-time information on the service and forthcoming inquests".
 

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