Yarmouth coroner preparing to retire

Great Yarmouth is facing an end of era as the town's coroner prepares to retire - leading to the probable transfer of his historic position's powers to Norwich.Anthony Carroll

Great Yarmouth is facing an end of era as the town's coroner prepares to retire - leading to the probable transfer of his historic position's powers to Norwich.

Keith Dowding will be stepping down as Yarmouth coroner in March - after 35 years of helping hundreds of grieving families come to terms with the lose of their loved ones in tragic accidents and incidents.

The impending retirement of Mr Dowding has led to Norfolk County Council examining plans to scrap the part time role of Yarmouth district coroner and merge it with the Greater Norfolk Coroner district based in Norwich.

It is hoped the new county wide structure, which will be called the Norfolk Coroner's district, could be in place in Norwich by April.

It will mean that a centuries old link of Yarmouth having its own dedicated coroner will come to an end.

The earliest mention of a coroner's court in Yarmouth was in 1294 and Henry VII granted a charter to the town in 1494 giving it the right to choose its coroner.

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County Hall says the amalgamation will tie in with government plans to remove smaller coroners offices and improve the efficiency of the inquest system.

The Yarmouth office handles about 50 inquests a year - making it the ninth smallest branch in England and Wales in terms of workload.

Reassurances have been given by the county council that after Mr Dowding retirement inquests will still be held at Yarmouth Magistrates' Court under the guidance of William Armstrong, the current coroner for Greater Norfolk.

Yesterday Mr Dowding spoke of his 35 year's service as Yarmouth coroner and how he always tried to bring a sense of closure to grieving loved ones.

He started in 1975 after moving from South Shields to Yarmouth in 1971 to commence work as a solicitor for Lucas and Wyllys. His wife Tricia has been his coroner's clerk for the last few years.

Mr Dowding said: 'The last 35 years have been a great privilege. My main concern for every inquest is to be thorough and to make sure that families try to have all their questions answered.'

Mr Dowding said that inquests involving children were always very emotional experiences and that this year's hearing into a German coach crash which killed three people from East Anglia in 2006 had moved him.

Norfolk County Council has launched a consultation into the coroners' offices merger.

A report last month said: 'The Greater Norfolk Coroner has indicated his support for such action and has given a commitment that with such amalgamation there would be no diminution of local service.

'He would intend to continue to hold inquests in the area covered by the present Great Yarmouth district.'

The merger would save up to �10,000 per year in running costs.

A public meeting about the closure of the Yarmouth coroners district will be held in Yarmouth Library tomorrow at 7pm.