ITN : 40 spies set for MI6 man's inquest

Thursday, March 31, 2011

40 spies set for MI6 man's inquest

March 31, 2011

Up to 40 spies could give evidence anonymously at the inquest into the mysterious death of MI6 agent Gareth Williams, a coroner has been told.

Paul Knapman adjourned an inquiry into the 31-year-old's death as Scotland Yard detectives wait for the results of a fresh round of forensic tests.

Counter-terrorism officers have interviewed "in the region of 40" of the expert codebreaker's colleagues at MI6 and GCHQ, Westminster Coroner's Court heard.

They have been passing on their findings to a team of investigators from the force's Homicide and Serious Crime Command who are responsible for the inquiry.

The inquest heard that some or all of them could give evidence about Mr Williams, whose naked and decomposing body was found in a bag in the bath of his Pimlico flat last August.

Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Sebire admitted the likelihood of tracing a Mediterranean couple seen at Mr Williams' home weeks before his death is diminishing.

She said it is "very unusual" for two teams of officers to be working on a suspicious death inquiry, but said the victim's secretive occupation was the reason.

Ham And High : Westminster coroner Dr Paul Knapman reflects on his 31-year career

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Westminster coroner Dr Paul Knapman reflects on his 31-year career

From the Iranian Embassy siege in 1980 to the 2005 London 7/7 bombings, Dr Knapman has seen it all

Ben Bloom, Reporter | March 27, 2011

“Every Monday morning I know there have been 25 deaths over the weekend, and there will be differences in all of them.”

It is not the usual thought most people have when they go to work to start the week but for the past 31 years Dr Paul Knapman’s job has been more than slightly different to that of the average person.

Presiding over 85,000 deaths during his time as Westminster coroner Dr Knapman, who will retire from his post at the end of March, has heard a number of notable cases throughout a long and distinguished career.

From the Iranian Embassy siege of 1980, to the rail crashes at Clapham Junction in 1988 and Ladbroke Grove in 1999, and the ongoing inquest into the 2005 London 7/7 bombings, he has presided over some of the most high-profile inquests in the past few decades.

“For 31 years I have known most roads in London, I know every cross road of significance, I know where the crack cocaine dens are, I know every tall building and I know the bridges that people jump from,” he says.

“There are some very tough jobs out there. Really difficult jobs are, for example, governors of prisons, superintendents of police stations in south London, headmasters of difficult inner-city comprehensive schools and coroners.

“There have been challenges, but on reflection it has been a very interesting and worthwhile career and I know I have made a difference in various fields.

“You are an investigator and your staff have the power to go out and investigate to get at the truth. Relatives want to get to the truth and I think it’s reasonable that they should know that.”

A role of such prestige does not come without its ups and downs, though, and Dr Knapman was on the receiving end of some criticism after he gave permission for the hands of 25 of the 51 drowning victims from the 1989 Marchioness boat disaster to be removed for identification purposes.

“Of course it was regrettable,” he says. “I don’t think there was sufficient appreciation that at the time all London coroners gave consent for unidentified drowned bodies to have their hands removed if the police wanted it and that happened to probably a couple of dozen bodies every year in the 1970s and 80s.

“In those days there was a patrician attitude that you did not tell people details they did not need to know. For example, in the 1970s and 80s some doctors wouldn’t tell people they had cancer because they did not need to know – they might just say to a woman: ‘You have a lump in the breast, it’s much better that we remove it’.

“I do take criticism personally and I think that people don’t always understand the difficulties of the job.”

While the facts and figures continue to build up before his impending retirement – he has held 150 inquests into deaths at Wandsworth prison, 100 inquests into incidents involving police, and 10 into different fatal bombings – he says the most satisfying part of the job is when he knows he has helped victims’ families.

He says: “It happens very frequently that when relatives come into court they are anxious, on the edge of their seats with lots of questions and they fear that it’s going to be a whitewash.

“The coroner asks all the questions, everything is explained and you say to them ‘do you have any questions?’ and they look relieved and say ‘no, thank you very much, it’s all clear now’.

“That’s the important thing.”

City of Westminster : New coroner appointed for inner west London

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New coroner appointed for inner west London

March 15, 2011

A new coroner has been appointed to serve inner-west London, which includes Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Wandsworth and Merton.

Dr Fiona Wilcox will take up the post on April 1, when she replaces the current coroner Dr Paul Knapman, who is retiring after 31 years.

Dr Wilcox is dual qualified being both a doctor and a barrister and has spent all her professional career working in central London.

She has been an inner-city General Practitioner for 21 years and has practiced as a barrister in criminal law, professional negligence and personal injury.

She has represented families at inquests, including military inquests in conjunction with the Royal British Legion. She has broad experience as a Coroner, having previously held four Assistant Deputy Coroner positions in East London, Southwark, North London and Kent.

Dr Wilcox said: "I am deeply honoured to be appointed to this prestigious jurisdiction and look forward to serving its diverse community. I wish to pay tribute to Dr Knapman for the excellent service and dedication to his position that he has shown over many years. I am delighted to be given the opportunity to take the coronial service forward in these challenging times."

Dr Knapman served for 36 years in total, including five years as deputy coroner, and presided over a number of high profile inquests including the Libyan embassy siege in 1984 and the Clapham rail disaster in 1987.

He said: "It has been my privilege to hold this office for so long and to serve this very disparate community - from those in embassies to the homeless hostels. But with it does come a large burden of responsibility I am pleased to hand on to a younger and very capable person."

The Coroner is an independent judicial officer who investigates violent or unnatural deaths, deaths of unknown cause or those occurring whilst a person is in custody or during the execution of an arrest by the police.

The Coroner's court is a court of enquiry not adversary and tries to identify factors that can be altered to prevent future deaths.

There are records relating to the Westminster Coroner dating back to the 1200's.

The court is sited on Horseferry Road with an allied mortuary and specialist forensic facilities. The Coroner is supported by a dedicated team of investigative officers and deals with more than 4,000 reported deaths per year.