Coroners and sudden death investigations

Information about deaths that are sudden, unexpected, violent or unnatural and those that occur in legal custody.

The role of a coroner

A coroner is an independent judicial office holder, appointed by a local council. Coroners usually have a legal background but will also be familiar with medical terms.

Coroners investigate deaths reported to them if it appears:

  • The death was violent or unnatural;
  • The cause of death is unknown; or
  • The person died in prison, police custody or another type of state detention.

In these cases coroners must investigate to find out, for the benefit of bereaved people and for official records, who has died and how, when and where they died.

Coroners also deal with finds that may be classified as treasure.

Post-mortem examination

If a coroner decides an investigation is necessary, a pathologist will normally carry out a post-mortem examination of the body.

The coroner must release the body as soon as possible, after which you can arrange the funeral. You should let the coroner know in writing if you wish to take the body outside of England and Wales.

If the post-mortem examination shows the cause of death, the coroner will send a form to the registrar of births and deaths stating the cause of death. You can then make an appointment to register the death.

Inquest

If it was not possible to find out the cause of death from the post-mortem examination, or the death is found to be unnatural, the coroner must hold an inquest. An inquest is a public court hearing held by the coroner to establish who died and where, when and how they died.

The inquest will be held as soon as possible and normally within six months of the death if at all possible. The coroner will notify you if more time is needed and what to expect in your case.

If the death occurred in prison or custody, or if it resulted from an accident at work, the inquest will usually have a jury.

At the end of the inquest

The coroner or jury comes to a conclusion at the end of an inquest. This includes the legal determination, which states who died and where, when and how they died. The coroner or jury also makes 'findings' to allow the cause of death to be registered. The coroner or jury may use one of the following terms when recording the cause:

  • accident or misadventure;
  • alcohol / drug related;
  • industrial disease;
  • lawful killing;
  • natural causes;
  • open;
  • road traffic collision;
  • stillbirth; 
  • suicide; or
  • unlawful killing.

The coroner or jury may also make a brief 'narrative' conclusion to provide more detail about facts surrounding the death and explain the reasons for the decision.

The coroner will send a form to the registrar after the inquest is complete. The registrar will then register the death based on the coroner's findings. You do not needing to visit our office for this to occur. However, you will need to contact the register office if you need copies of the death certificate.

Frequently asked questions

Details of upcoming coroners' inquests in the North Yorkshire East and West areas can be found below.

North Yorkshire East (Coroner - Mr M D Oakley)

Date, location and time Inquest Further details
Wednesday 20 September 2017 at J M Guthrie Club House, Scarborough Rugby Club, Scalby Road, Scalby, Scarborough YO13 0NL, commencing at 10am. Emma ANDERSON Died aged 30 on 28 May 2017 at her home address in Norton, Malton
Audrey SMITH Died aged 92 on 19 April 2017 at her home address in Hunmanby, Filey
Alan John HASKINS Died aged 47 on 3 May 2017 at Sutton-on-the-Forest (was from Barnsley, South Yorkshire)
Maison Cobie HIRSTLE Died aged 4 on 21 October 2016 at Scarborough Hospital (was from Scarborough)
Wednesday 18 October 2017 at The Town Hall, St Nicholas Street, Scarborough, commencing at 10am. Benn ASHTON Died aged 88 on 18 March 2017 at Scarborough Hospital
Martha McDERMID Died aged 90 on 4 July 2017 at her home address in Scarborough
Nigel WILKINSON Died aged 44 on 7 July 2017 at his home address in Northallerton
Philip PARKER Died aged 64 on 19 June 2017 at Scarborough Hospital
James PARKE Died aged 74 on 16 July 2017 at Scarborough Hospital
Daniel STEVENS Died aged 25 on 25 June 2017 at Hull Royal Infirmary
Sharon ROWLEY Died aged 46 on 20 May 2017 at her home address in Scarborough
Joseph James GREENALL Died aged 24 on 4 June 2017 at Primrose Valley, Filey

North Yorkshire West (Coroner - Mr R D Turnbull)

Date, location and time Inquest Further details
Wednesday 11 October 2017 at Harrogate Justice Centre, commencing at 10am. Edlin Ernest HAXBY Died aged 83 on 20 July 2017 at Airedale Hospital
Leslie TOMLINSON Died aged 84 on 9 December 2016 at Harrogate District Hospital
Eric Allan WARD Died aged 78 on 17 August 2017 at Skipton
Douglas Thomas SKELLY Died aged 89 on 5 June 2017 at Harrogate District Hospital
Wednesday 25 October at Harrogate Justice Centre, commencing at 10am. David Russell GIRDHAM Died aged 61 on 10 February 2017 at Great Ouseburn
Andrew PARKS Died aged 41 on 8 May 2017 at Richmond
Thursday 2 November 2017 at Selby Civic Centre, commencing at 10am. Andrew Graham NEVILLE Died aged 49 on 28 January 2017 at Sherburn-in-Elmet
Deane RICHARDSON Died aged 40 on 9 February 2017 at Selby
Arthur HORNE Died aged 95 on 28 March 2017 at The Grange Care Home, Selby
Wednesday 8 November 2017 at Harrogate Justice Centre, commencing at 10am. Donna NICKELL-LEAN Died aged 33 on 23 April 2017 at Ripley
Robert LYTHE Died aged 77 on 5 April 2017 at Leathley
Wednesday 22 November 2017 at Harrogate Justice Centre, commencing at 10am. Arnold ROWE Died aged 77 on 3 March 2017 at Knaresborough
Aileen HILL Died aged 95 on 19 March 2017 at Knaresborough
Steven Paul ATKINSON Died aged 36 on 3 April 2017 at Harrogate
Nicholas John MacGRATH Died aged 41 on 24 April 2017 at Harrogate

Please note that any timings given for individual inquests are approximate.

In most cases a death will not need to be reported to a coroner. A hospital doctor or GP can certify the medical cause of death and the death can be registered by the registrar in the usual way.

The police, a registrar, doctor or other person must report deaths to the coroner in the following circumstances:

  • During the last illness a doctor did not attend the deceased or the doctor treating the deceased had not seen him or her either after death or within the 14 days before death;
  • The death was violent, unnatural or occurred under suspicious circumstances;
  • The cause of death is not known or uncertain;
  • The death was caused by an industrial disease or related in any way to the deceased's employment;
  • The death occurred in prison or police custody;
  • The deceased was detained under the Mental Health Act;
  • The death may be linked to an accident (wherever it occurred);
  • If there is any question of self-neglect or neglect by others;
  • The death may have been contributed to by the actions of the deceased (such as an overdose, self-injury, drug or solvent abuse);
  • The deceased was receiving any form of war pension or industrial disability pensions unless the death can be shown to be wholly unconnected;
  • The death took place within 24 hours of admission to hospital;
  • The death may be related to a medical procedure or treatment (whether invasive or not);
  • The death may be due to a lack of medical care;
  • The death occurred while the patient was undergoing an operation or did not recover from the anaesthetic;
  • The death was linked to an abortion;
  • Where there are any allegations of medical mis-management; or
  • The case has any other unusual or disturbing features.

Organ donation

If you wish to consider organ donation, you will need immediate advice. This can be sought from a hospital or doctor, or from the coroner's officer. The coroner must be told and must agree before organs can be removed. In some cases, organ donation may not be possible for medical reasons or because of delays when a death has to be investigated.

Anyone considering applying to move a body that has been interred should, in the first instance, discuss their proposals with the appropriate local church official or undertaker.

The person applying for consent to disinter remains needs to show:

  • The presumed intention of those who committed the body or ashes to a last resting place is to be disregarded or overborne; and
  • The length of time since the interment has been considered (a prompt application is stronger than one made where the remains have been undisturbed for many months or years).

In every case, the arguments for consent will be weighed against these general principles and against the desire to maintain the churchyard or place set aside for the interment or cremated remains.

If you wish to take the body abroad, you must give written notice to the coroner, who will tell you within four days whether further enquiries are needed.

If you wish to bring the body back to England or Wales, the coroner may need to be involved. In certain circumstances, an inquest may be necessary. You can ask for advice from your local coroner's office.

There are two coroners in North Yorkshire.

Coroner - Mr R D Turnbull (Craven, Richmondshire, Selby and Harrogate districts)

HM coroner for the western district of North Yorkshire (the Harrogate, Richmond, Selby, Settle and Skipton areas).

In the first instance, please contact a coroners' officer by emailing coronerswestern@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk

Library Headquarters
21 Grammar School Lane
Northallerton
North Yorkshire
DL6 1DF

Tel: 01609 533843
Fax: 01609 780793
Email: coronersadmin@northyorks.gov.uk 

Coroner - Mr M D Oakley (Hambleton, Ryedale and Scarborough districts)

HM coroner for the eastern district of North Yorkshire (the district council areas of Hambleton, Ryedale and Scarborough).

In the first instance, please contact a coroners' officer by emailing coronerseastern@northyorkshire.pnn.police

Forsyth House
3 Market Place
Malton
North Yorkshire
YO17 7LP

Tel: 01653 600070 or 01439 788339
Fax: 01653 600049
Email: coroner.oakley@icloud.com

Coroners administrative support to Mr Oakley - Susanne James
Tel: 07736 115834
Email: susanne.james@icloud.com 

Coroners' officers contact details

Senior coroners officer - Rachel Davies

Email: rachel.davies@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk 

The North Yorkshire coroners' officers are located in the following police stations:

Area Coroners' officers address
Harrogate Harrogate Police Station
Beckwith Head Road
Beckwith
Harrogate
HG3 1FR
Scarborough Scarborough Police Station
Northway 
Scarborough 
YO12 7AD
Selby Selby Police Station
Portholme Road
Selby
North Yorkshire
YO8 4QQ
Skipton Skipton Police Station
Otley Road
Skipton
North Yorkshire
BD23 1EZ
York York Police Station
Fulford Road 
York 
YO10 4BY

If you find something that may be treasure you must report all finds to the coroner within:

  • 14 days after the day you made the find; or
  • 14 days after the day you realised the find might be treasure (for example, as a result of having it identified).

Everyone is required to report finds, including archaeologists.

The definition of treasure

The following finds are classed as treasure under the Treasure Act 1996:

Coins

All coins from the same find count as treasure if they are at least 300 years old when found. If the coins contain less than ten per cent of gold or silver, there must be at least ten of them to count as treasure.

Objects other than coins

Any other object may count as treasure if it contains at least ten per cent of gold or silver and is at least 300 years old when found. Note that objects with gold or silver plating normally have less than ten per cent of precious metal.

An object or coin is part of the same find as another object or coin if it is found in the same place as, or had previously been left together with, the other object. Finds may have become scattered since they were originally deposited in the ground.

Only the following groups of coins will normally be regarded as coming from the same find:

  • Hoards that have been deliberately hidden;
  • Smaller groups of coins, such as the contents of purses, that may have been dropped or lost; and
  • Votive or ritual deposits.

Objects that would have been treasure trove

An object that would previously have been treasure trove, but does not fall within the specific categories given, must be made substantially of gold or silver and have been buried with the intention of recovery. You must be also be unable to trace the object's owner or their heirs.

Associated objects

An associated object, whatever it is made of, is found in the same place as, or had previously been together with, another object that is treasure.

The following types of find are not treasure:

  • Objects whose owners can be traced;
  • Unworked natural objects, including human and animal remains, even if they are found in association with treasure; and
  • Objects from the foreshore, which are wreck.

If you are in doubt about whether an object counts as treasure, it is safest to report your find.

How to report a find of treasure

You may report your find to the coroner in person or by letter or telephone. The coroner's officer will send you an acknowledgement and tell you where you should take your find.

Where to take your find

You will normally be asked to take your find to a local museum or archaeological body. The person who receives the find on behalf of the coroner will give you a receipt. They will need to know where you made the find, but they will keep this information confidential if you (or the landowner) wish. You should also keep the information confidential.

The person receiving the find will notify the Sites and Monuments Record as soon as possible (if that has not already happened) so archaeologists can investigate the site if necessary.

If you fail to report a find of treasure

If you fail to report a find of treasure you could be imprisoned for up to three months or receive a fine of up to £5,000, or both. You will not be breaking the law if you do not report a find because you do not initially recognise it may be treasure, but you should report it once you do realise this.

If the find is not treasure

If the object is clearly not treasure, the museum or archaeological body will inform the coroner.

If the find is treasure

If the museum curator or archaeologist believes the find may be treasure, they will inform the British Museum. The museum will then decide whether they or any other museum may wish to acquire it.

If no museum wishes to acquire the find, the coroner will usually notify the occupier and landowner the office intends to return the object to the finder after 28 days unless an objection is received. If the coroner receives an objection, the find will be retained until the dispute has been settled.

If a museum wants to acquire the find

If a museum wants to acquire part or all of a find, the coroner will hold an inquest to decide whether it is treasure. The coroner will inform the finder, occupier and landowner and they will be able to question witnesses at the inquest. Treasure inquests will normally be held without a jury.

If the find is declared to be treasure, it will be taken to the British Museum so it can be valued.

Receiving a fair price for the find

Any find of treasure a museum wishes to acquire must be valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee, which consists of independent experts who will commission a valuation. You, together with the museum that wishes to acquire the find and any other interested party, will have an opportunity to comment on the valuation and to send in a separate valuation of your own, before the committee makes its recommendation. If you are dissatisfied you can appeal to the Secretary of State.

Loss or damage to the find

The coroner or museum is required to take reasonable steps to ensure the find is not lost or damaged. In the unlikely event this happens, you should be compensated.

Receiving the reward

The person who receives the reward is set out in detail in a Code of Practice. To summarise:

  • Those eligible to receive rewards are the finder(s) and landowner and/or occupier. Where the finder has permission to search for and remove artefacts on the land where the find was made, the finder will receive their full share of the reward. The finder is responsible to prove permission was granted. It is normal practice to divide rewards equally between the finder and landowner on a 50:50 basis unless another agreement has been reached between them. If the finder makes an agreement with the landowner/occupier to share a reward, the Secretary of State will normally follow it.
  • If the finder does not remove the whole of a find from the ground but allows archaeologists to excavate the remainder of the find, the original finder will normally be eligible for a reward for the whole find.
  • Rewards will not normally be payable when an archaeologist makes the find.
  • Where the finder has committed an offence regarding to a find, has trespassed, or has not followed best practice as set out in the Code of Practice, they may expect no reward at all or a reduced reward. Landowners and occupiers will be eligible for rewards in such cases.

The Code of Practice states you should receive a reward within one year of you having delivered your find, although this may take longer in the case of very large finds or those that present special difficulties.