Last day in court after 31 years' service for coroner

John Leckey pictured leaving Belfast coroner's court, is stepping down after 31 years but will end his career by delivering his findings on Daniel McColgan's murder

NORTHERN Ireland senior coroner John Leckey will today mark the end of a 31-year career when he delivers his finding on Daniel McColgan's death - leaving the region without a coroner for the rest of the year.

Mr Leckey does not officially retire until October 30, but he will not return to court to hear an inquest before he leaves office.

Both his colleagues Suzanne Anderson and Jim Kitson remain on sick leave and it is unlikely that a replacement will be in place until late December or early January at the earliest.

Mr Leckey has said in his opinion "the successful applicant is unlikely to be in post before Easter".

Applications for the post closed on Monday and according to the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission interviews are planned for November 12 and 13.

However, the successful candidate will need to undergo `pre-appointment checks' which take around four weeks and their start date will be dependent on when the person can be released from their present post.

Two investigators to assist the coroner are also being appointed.

In the meantime, former coroner Brian Sherrard, former legal secretary to the Lord Chief Justice, has returned to fill in until the new appointment is made.

He left the service after being made a county court judge in 2012.

Mr Leckey expressed frustration at the delay in appointing his successor, saying during a court hearing last month it perplexed him daily but "the solution to the problem does not lie with me".

The 66-year-old had been responding to concerns that his departure will exacerbate a logjam of legacy cases during a preliminary inquest for Catholic teenager Marian Brown.

The 1972 case is one of 55 that relate to 96 deaths during the Troubles and include the Kingsmill massacre, with sole survivor Alan Black threatening to take legal action over the appointment `delay'.

Before he left post, former chief constable Matt Baggott said the coroner's court system is incapable of dealing with the volume of legacy cases.

There are around 250 inquests heard every year.

A trained solicitor, Mr Leckey has been investigating deaths since 1984, when he was appointed deputy coroner for Greater Belfast and said "dealing with deaths of children is emotionally very difficult" and has been the hardest part of his job.

He said that things have changed during his time on the bench, with "family expectations much higher than they were 10 or 15 years ago".


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