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A coroner will be asked to investigate all deaths that are unexpected or unnatural to decide whether an inquest is necessary to determine the cause of death. Here you can find information about the coroner and their processes. 

Post Mortem

A post mortem is the examination of the body after death in order to determine the cause of death. Post mortems are carried out by pathologists, and provide useful information about how, when and why someone died. If a family member has died and a post mortem is to be conducted, hospital bereavement officers can offer you support and advice, and can act as the main point of contact between you and the staff carrying out the post mortem. 

Understanding the jargon

Coroner – The coroner is an official who makes inquiries into deaths reported to them, which may be unnatural or of an unexpected or unknown cause. Delayed grief/trauma – This term is used when at first adjustment seems normal but then distress and symptoms increase months later. Grief – Grief is the natural response to the loss of someone (or something) very important to us, including the death of a loved one. It is the emotional suffering you feel when someone you love is taken away.


Toxicology is the analysis of blood and urine for the presence of chemical substances and is used in the case of sudden death and fatal accident enquiries. A toxicology report is done on blood and tissue to establish whether any toxic substances in the body contributed to the death. The report will detail prescription drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol and any other chemical substances which the toxicologist has been instructed to test for. It will usually take between six and eight weeks for the toxicology report to be completed. You can ask for a copy of this with the post mortem report.

What happens at an Inquest ?

An inquest is meant to find out facts – the ‘how,’ ‘when’ and ‘where,’ not the why – and are not like criminal trials. The coroner and legal representatives should treat witnesses, especially the bereaved, with care and respect. The coroner will begin the inquest and if there is a jury, the coroner will explain their duties and that they must establish the answer to the questions: who the person was; where they died; when they died and how they came by their death.


A number of verdicts can be returned in an inquest, including dependence on drugs/non-dependant abuse of drugs, suicide (or killed him/herself) whilst the balance of his/her mind was disturbed, lawful and unlawful killing and an open verdict (where the cause of death cannot be established and doubt remains as to how the deceased came to their death).

About the Coroner

The Coroner has a statutory duty to investigate all unexpected or "unnatural" deaths and to decide whether an inquest is necessary to determine the cause of death.  The doctor, police or Registrar of Births and Deaths will therefore inform the Coroner of the death, and you will then be contacted by the Coroner's office, usually within one working day. 

Investigating sudden deaths

When someone dies suddenly and unexpectedly the law says there must be an investigation into what happened. This is likely to happen if drugs are involved in your friend or relative’s death. It may not be the case for an alcohol-related death following a long illness. The investigation may involve a post-mortem (doctor’s examination of the body) and an inquest (public court hearing to find out who died, how and why). There is likely to be a delay before you can hold the funeral.

Copies of reports

You may ask to receive copies of reports of any post-mortem examination, and of other documents that are relevant to the investigation. The Coroner’s office will not charge a fee for copies of documents provided before or during the inquest, but may charge you if you wait to ask until after the inquest is over.  You may also request a recording of the inquest hearing, for which there will be a charge.

When a sudden or unexpected death occurs

When a sudden or unexpected death occurs then the police will attend. You should not be alarmed by this.  They have two roles. Firstly they have to investigate to see if there have been any criminal offences committed. In the case of any drug-related deaths that will involve trying to find who supplied the drugs. 

Tissue retention

The Pathologist may need to take samples from your loved one's body for further testing.  Unfortunately, this must be done even if you would prefer otherwise - the Pathologist has a duty in law to take them if they believe that it will help them determine the cause of death.