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Parents succeed in getting coroner overseeing inquest into daughter's death replaced

Grieving parents of a 35 year old woman with autism, have succeeded in their battle to replace the Coroner in charge of their daughter's inquest

Posted on 29 May 2018

Andrew and Amanda McCulloch have succeeded in their fight to replace the coroner overseeing the inquest of their autistic daughter who was killed after being hit by a lorry.

Colette McCulloch was 35 when she was killed on the A1 in the early hours of the morning in July 2016.

At the time Colette was under the care of Pathway House, a residential care home specialising in autism, part of the privately-run Milton Park Therapeutic Campus near Bedford. Acting senior coroner Ian Pears was overseeing the inquest but the family were unhappy with his dealing of the case, accusing him of bias and delay.

The McCullochs instructed lawyers Leigh Day to judicially review the coroner. Mr Pears has now conceded and agreed to stand down from the inquest.

Mr McCulloch said: “We feel we have had a lot of difficulty with Coroner Pears and we are pleased that we will now have a new coroner working on this inquest. From our initial hearing, we have found him to be dismissive. He did not answer letters often for weeks and his responses we felt were confrontational.

“He made decisions which impeded our ability to access legal aid and only changed his position after we instructed lawyers to threaten legal proceedings. It has been exhausting, stressful and involved considerable expense which we are very grateful to our CrowdJustice supporters for assisting us with. Colette’s death was completely devastating for us. But then having to fight a coroner like this to get justice has nearly destroyed us. Only the support of our dedicated legal team, and our older daughter, has kept us going.”

Merry Varney, the family’s solicitor, said: “Although this decision by acting senior coroner Pears is very welcome, it is a complete travesty that the parents have had to go through this.

“Had their concerns been listened to by the coroner in December 2016, their daughter’s death may by now have been fully investigated. Instead, with memories of those involved fading and opportunity for prompt change lost, they only now can look forward to a public, full and fearless investigation into Colette’s death.

“This case is a stark reminder why improvements to the coronial system and the treatment of bereaved families is so badly needed.”

This is the second time Colette’s parents have had to instruct lawyers to judicially review the acting senior coroner and have previously sought the assistance of the Judicial Conduct Investigation Office, the chief coroner and the Judicial Appointments & Conduct Ombudsman.

Ms Varney said: “Colette’s parents have always believed that there were failings in Colette’s care and that her death was avoidable.

“They understood the Inquest process would provide for a full and fearless investigation; instead Andrew & Amanda have had to fight for almost 18 months with acting senior coroner Pears to ensure their daughter’s death is properly and publicly investigated.”

On 4 May this year, the McCullochs sent a letter before action threatening judicial review if the coroner did not recuse himself. Their allegations included that a fair-minded and informed observer would conclude that there is a real possibility that the acting senior coroner was biased against the family.

“Their allegation was based on the coroner being generally dismissive of the family’s concerns; their correspondence being perceived as a nuisance and the tone of his correspondence being “inappropriately combative, adversarial and at times even sardonic,” added Ms Varney.

Through his lawyers, the acting senior coroner conceded the bereaved family’s grievance and stood down from the inquest. The family are awaiting news of the appointment of a replacement coroner so that finally their daughter’s Inquest can progress.

The McCulloch family were represented by Merry Varney from Leigh day and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Samuel Jacobs from Doughty Street Chambers