A London Assembly Member has questioned the motives of the senior Inner London coroner who refuses to release bodies early for religious reasons.
Andrew Dismore, who represents Barnet and Camden, asked the question of Mary Hassell during an Assembly debate, which ended in a rebuke of her for her “cab-rank” policy of releasing bodies for burial.
Hassell has been at odds with Jewish and Muslim communities who have asked her, where possible, to prioritise the release of bodies, given that prompt burial is important in Jewish and Muslim tradition. They have also asked that she use CT and MRI scans where possible, rather than invasive autopsies.
MPs from across the political spectrum have suggested they support the idea of more flexibility to release bodies earlier for religious reasons, but Hassell – who moved to London five years ago from Wales – has remained steadfast.
This has led to calls for his dismissal, but her office is independent, and it is only the Lord Chancellor David Gauke who could do so.
Following an Assembly debate on Thursday, Dismore suggested there may be more to Hassell’s perceived intransigence, saying: “One has to question what Ms Hassell’s motive was in applying for the job here in the first place.”
He asked: “Did she not do any research to establish the needs and the nature of the communities she would be dealing with? In applying for the post, was her intention to offer a deliberate and insensitive snub to them? Or has she a hidden agenda?”
Dismore said her her letter to Mayor Biggs of Tower Hamlets implied as much, because it included “a demand for more resources and better premises”.
The Assembly Member said: “If so, it is outrageous that she is holding these communities hostage in this way, as some form of twisted leverage against the councils’ consortium that pays for her. If she has a grievance about funding, then she should join the very long queue.”
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May appeared to suggest Hassell was in the wrong, saying: “It is important that we take into account specific requirements of someone’s faith, especially when they’ve lost a loved one and are grieving.”