Sadiq Khan backs Jewish community in coroner dispute

Mary Hassell has provoked outrage in the Jewish and Muslim communities by refusing to prioritise burials for religious reasons


Sadiq Khan has backed the Board of Deputies in its clash with a senior coroner over delays in releasing bodies for burial, urging her to show “respect for families and faith communities”.

Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for St Pancras Coroner’s Court, has provoked outrage by saying she would not prioritise any death for religious reasons.

Ms Hassell’s north London jurisdiction covers Hackney, home to Europe’s biggest Strictly Orthodox community, as well as Camden, Islington and Tower Hamlets, the local authority with the UK’s largest Muslim population.

Both Judaism and Islam requires the deceased to be buried as quickly as possible.

Marie Van Der Zyl, the Board’s vice president, and Sidney Sinitsky, a representative of the Adath Yisroel Burial Society (AYBS), held talks with Ms Hassell last Friday, which they described as “deeply disappointing”.

Although he has no direct influence over coroners, Mr Khan, the Mayor of London, told the JC he welcomed the Board’s decision to write to David Gauke, the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, who is partially responsible for disciplining and removing coroners from office.

Mr Khan said: “If there’s no good reason to delay releasing a body, or if there’s no good reason to conduct an invasive post-mortem, a coroner should respect the wishes of families and communities.

“I can’t explain the actions of this particular coroner. Most coroners around London and around the country are very respectful of the Jewish faith and the Islamic faith.

“The Board have done the right thing in writing to the Lord Chancellor – let’s see what he says.”

Mr Khan, a Muslim, said he sympathised with the Jewish community, saying that the quick burial of the deceased form an “important part” of the culture and beliefs of both faiths.

In her letter to Mr Gauke, Ms Van Der Zyl wrote: "Ms Hassell’s insistence on what she terms a ‘cab rank’ rule on a strict first-come, first-served basis without any discretion, and unwillingness to provide a contact number for burial societies to use out-of-hours services, has created a situation were the Jewish community of Inner North London is being failed by their coroner’s service.

"With regret, we must inform you that we cannot see how the situation can be resolved while Ms Hassell is still in post. We therefore request that you relieve her of her duties."

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