Call the coroner…

There is nothing more unaesthetic than a policeman.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Sign of the Four

As the title suggests, this post covers the inquest and coroner’s report following my mother’s suicide. Please bear this in mind should you choose to read on.

Often, the first a family will know of a loved one’s suicide follows a very unwelcome knock at the door by the police. It can come as a complete shock, they may not have known that anything was wrong, or it can be an oxymoronic dreaded relief following a long period of stress or mental illness in the deceased’s life. Either way, a bureaucratic maze of evidence gathering and investigation is likely to result in a coroner’s report and inquest.


Inquests are very public affairs, the aim being to determine the cause of death and, in the case of a suicide, to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the deceased meant to take their own life. For some families, this is an important step in coming to terms with what has happened, for others it is a painful reliving of past events. Given that anyone can attend the hearing (including the press), they may worry about the private life of a loved one being scrutinised and speculated upon when they can no longer answer for themselves.

For a long time, my knowledge of my mother’s inquest began and ended with years of my father parroting that she had been partially decapitated when the train hit. Given his somewhat belligerent sense of humour, I often wondered how true that was, giving way to nightmarish visions of what else had happened that day. Upon doing a bit of research, it became obvious to me from his wording that he only ever troubled himself to read the press report and had memorised the most shocking detail.

In spite of what I had learned, I still only knew so much. I felt that after reading the coroner’s report, my brain would stop endlessly filling in the gaps with different “what if?” scenarios. Usually, coroner’s reports are unavailable for general viewing for 75 years following the person’s death, unless exceptional circumstances arise or people who are entitled to see the information make an application. So, a Freedom of Information request was made and the report was released to me as a ‘properly interested party’ under Rule 57 of the Coroner Rules 1984.

I was on uniformed patrol…At 12.50 hrs I attended the railway line…and there met ambulance crew, and British Rail workers, answering the call of a person having been hit by a train.

Police officer’s statement – coroner’s report

Unsurprisingly, parts of the contents aren’t for the squeamish, though a little foreknowledge of the manner of my mother’s death prepared me for some unpleasant reading. There are graphic descriptions of a previous suicide attempt and the state of her body post-mortem which I won’t repeat here just now, though I may cover in the future after giving it some more thought.

Believe it or not, having a clear description of the timeline of events of that day is strangely comforting. There are several reports from investigating police officers who attended the scene, the driver of the train, British Rail rolling stock inspectors who surveyed the locomotive for any damage, and statements by my mother’s relatives. They all piece together what happened and put 30 odd years of pondering to rest.

Of course, a coroner’s report isn’t where this journey ends for me. I am fortunate enough to have received other useful information regarding my mother’s illness and death which I have already covered on this blog, and am currently corresponding with her relatives and friends to get a clearer picture of happier times in her life.  At some point, I hope to write a book based on all this, and the experience of growing up following the suicide of a parent. I feel that this blog is shaping up to be good practice for that.

Further Reading