Monday December 17, 2012
By RICHARD OSLEY and TOM FOOT
THE coroner's inquest into the death of singer Amy Winehouse has been listed to be reheard, the New Journal can reveal.
It follows the resignation of St Pancras Coroner Dr Andrew Reid last week, who was being investigated for hiring his unqualified wife, Suzanne Greenaway, to the role of assistant deputy coroner, a position which meant she oversaw the first hearing into Ms Winehouse's death. Ms Winehouse's name now appears on a list of inquests to be heard next month at St Pancras Coroner's Court. Around 30 other inquests will also be re-run after legal advice suggested the cases had 'technically' not been properly heard.
The original hearing into Ms Winehouse's death, which reached a verdict of 'misadventure', was held in October 2011 but a month later Ms Greenaway resigned. Dr Reid, her husband, was suspended in February as the Official for Judicial Complaints (OJC) began an investigation.
Dr Shirley Radcliffe, interim coroner for Inner North London, said: "I can confirm that an inquest into the death of Amy Winehouse will be heard at St Pancras Coroner's Court. After taking the appropriate legal advice I am minded that due to the previous assistant deputy coroner's ineligibility to hold coronial office that the inquest into the death of Amy Winehouse has not technically been heard. I have therefore scheduled an inquest to take place where the evidence will be heard in public before a judgement is made."
She added: "Other inquests handled by Ms Greenaway have been heard again by the coroner's court throughout the year following consultation with the next of kin. While I wish to ensure that due legal process is followed I understand that these hearings have brought back many unwanted memories for the families and my sympathies are with them at this time."
The New Journal revealed last week how top judges had indicated Dr Reid should be removed from his post before he made the move to resign ten days ago.
The OJC said an investigation into Dr Andrew Reid’s decision to hire his wife as an assistant deputy coroner was coming to an end, and both the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice had “indicated” he should be removed.
Ms Greenaway's legal career in her native Australia did not count towards qualifications needed for the job, including a requirement to practise law or medicine for five years in this country.
By then, she had overseen around 30 inquests – public investigations into the circumstances of someone’s death – at St Pancras Coroner’s Court.
Ms Greenaway was in charge of the inquest into the death of Amy Winehouse, the award-winning singer found dead from accidental alcohol poisoning in Camden Square last year.
Dr Reid said at the time of his suspension: “I believed at the time that her experience as a solicitor and barrister in Australia satisfied the requirements of the post.
"In November of last year it became apparent that I had made an error in the appointment process and I accepted her resignation.”
The OJC said on Wednesday: “Dr Andrew Scott Reid, HM Coroner for Inner North London, has resigned from judicial office following a disciplinary investigation regarding his decision to appoint Ms Greenaway as Assistant Deputy Coroner without thoroughly checking whether she had the requisite qualifications for that specific role.”
Its spokesman added: “The Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice had indicated their intention to remove Dr Reid from judicial office.
“Dr Reid was entitled to ask for a Review Body panel to review the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice’s provisional decision.
“The Review Body panel recommended Dr Reid should be removed from office.
“However, Dr Reid resigned from his post as a coroner and also as a tribunal judge in the Health Education and Social Care Chamber, before the disciplinary process was formally concluded.”
The New Journal exclusively revealed on our website last Monday how Dr Reid had offered his resignation to Camden Council chief executive Mike Cooke.
A search for a replacement is already underway, with acting coroner Dr Shirley Radcliffe in place to ensure the business of the court can continue.
The council has been paying a quarter of Dr Reid’s salary during his lengthy suspension, with three other north London authorities covering the remainder.
Town Hall community safety chief Councillor Abdul Hai said: “We are disappointed that the Office for Judicial Complaints investigation has taken over 10 months, particularly as the taxpayers of Camden and three other boroughs have had to finance the salary of the coroner in the intervening period.
“I will be writing to the OJC and expressing my dissatisfaction with the process, length of time taken and seeking reimbursement of any costs incurred by Camden and our neighbouring boroughs.”
Still one of the most powerful positions in the judicial system, and with the power to issue warrants for arrest, coroners are trusted to interview and recruit their own staff, once they have themselves been approved by the Ministry of Justice.
Under the rules for hiring his own team, Dr Reid needed to get his appointments approved by Camden Council, but the Town Hall stressed earlier this year that this is only a “rubber-stamping” role.
Officials at the Town Hall said the council was not informed that Ms Greenaway was Dr Reid’s wife when she was appointed, although there is no suggestion that he tried to conceal this fact.
It has been a turbulent spell at St Pancras, which examines hundreds of deaths across Camden and Islington every year.
It has seen informal complaints about the lack of available information about when public inquests are to be held, a problem which some critics say only adds to a lack of wider knowledge as to how and why the inquest system operates.
In a case completely unrelated to the probe into Dr Reid’s conduct, Dr Freddy Patel, a pathologist who carried out hundreds of post-mortem examinations over several years for inquests at St Pancras, was struck off the medical register earlier this year.
He was said to have made a catalogue of errors over a number of years, including wrongly finding that a victim of the “Camden Ripper” Anthony Hardy had died from “natural causes”.