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Backwords: A Crusty Coroner

Mike Shaw recalls a couple of crusty coroners that he encountered during his career as a journalist.

Having to sit and listen to a daily dose of death or destruction is enough to make the happiest of souls feel down in the mouth.

And in the past there have been a number of such crusty characters in these parts.

The most crusty of them all was the first one I came across.

He used to travel around the valleys in a battered old jalopy. And everywhere he went, his yapping little dog went with him.

Shut up in his masterís car all that time, itís not surprising he always had a thirst.

So when HM Coroner arrived for an inquest, his first order was for a drink of water for his panting pet.

Crabby was hardly the word for him at times. More than one unfortunate soul was reduced to a quivering, jelly-like mass in the witness box.

In his imposing presence the humble police constable went in fear and trembling.

On one memorable occasion I turned up at Golcar for an inquest in the Baptist Sunday School. Everything seemed in order as we all waited for the arrival of you know who.

Until the police sergeant suddenly discovered there was no Bible on which to swear the witnesses.

Panic spread through the ranks. But calm was restored after whispered conversation among the constabulary.

The inquest went off without a hitch and the irascible coroner departed in peace for his next appointment.

What he would have said if he had known the oath had been taken on a common hymn book I shudder to think.

Mind you, he was prone to making the odd mistake himself. But if he did, nobody could get him to admit it.

Like the time he turned up for an inquest at Slaithwaite Town Hall while everybody else went to Linthwaite Town Hall.

Heíd gone to the wrong place. But HM Coroner was never in error.

So, ignoring the police protestations that they were in fact at the official destination, he ordered all the witnesses up to Slaithwaite, where he awaited them in splendid isolation, grumbling about other peopleís incompetence.

Another caustic coroner was in the chair on the only occasion Iíve been called to give evidence at an inquest.

I arrived just in time to hear a red-faced youth being given a stinging reminder about the horrible punishments that could be handed out for not telling the truth under oath.

When my turn came I approached the stand with rising trepidation. But by then his wrath had subsided. Crustiness gave way to charm and I was so stunned that I became virtually speechless for a few seconds.

There have been coroners who have been the very essence of tact and courtesy. Like the one who, at a particular hearing, made a point of asking a young man sitting on the solicitorsí benches if he had any questions at the end of each witnessís evidence.

Every offer met with a slight shake of the head until finally the puzzled coronerís curiosity got the better of him. And even his seemingly inexhaustible charm disappeared when, in reply to the coronerís question, the young man revealed he was a reporter from the overflowing press gallery.

In some jobs you simply canít win.

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