The actions of Mary Hassell, the senior coroner whose jurisdiction covers Hackney and Tower Hamlets, (two areas have high Jewish and Muslim populations), are causing serious questions to be raised around her fitness for the role.
The recent case around the death of Aharon Barzevski in October 2017, led to accusations from the family of the deceased man of “unnecessary foot dragging in authorising a CT scan”, which they accused the Coroner of.
More recently, a meeting between the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Adath Yisrael Burial Society (ABYS) got nowhere leading to Marie van der Zyl, the Board’s Vice President, saying, “Not only is Ms Hassell failing to respect those rights (of burial within 24 hours), but she shows no inclination to do so. She has lost the confidence of the Jewish community, and appears to have no interest in winning it back.”
Any public official reading this would be horrified by the potential loss of confidence within Jewish communities and would have responded with some due care and attention, yet nothing from Mary Hassell to date.
What is coming across to Muslim and Jewish communities, is of a Coroner whose ‘Cab Rank Rule’ – (her words and not mine), shows a person out of touch with not only the deeply held religious beliefs in both faiths, but also lacking in public empathy with both communities who need to bury their dead within 24 hours.
To add insult to injury, her jurisdiction covers two key boroughs, which means that these issues are not going away any time soon, and the only result that can reduce the mounting anguish, anger and pain felt within these communities, is to remove a Coroner who, according to representatives of the Board, does not seem to respect the core tenets around burial within both faiths.
One could argue coroners may be more sensitive to the needs of families and communities at a time when they are grieving and when emotions and feelings are raw at the loss of a loved one.
However, the case of Barzevski, seems to indicate little desire in actually meeting the religious needs of families, because it seems, Hassell has taken a ‘cab rank’ approach which disregards, at its roots, the core religious identities and needs of both communities. In other words, get in the queue and your religious rights come some way down the line at a time when for Muslim and Jewish communities, it is their faith that holds them together at a time of great loss.
For over 4 decades, much progress has been made to meet the needs of many communities so that they feel stable and settled communities in our country.
Settled communities are more likely to be productive, politically engaged and add to the development of a State.
Yet, it only takes one issue, such as this, to roll back trust in the structures of the State, and through the actions of someone who can control what happens to a loved one, especially when they have passed away and when the sanctity of the body is involved. Within Islam and Judaism, both see the body as being a gift from God that should not be cut or damaged.
The anger and sense of betrayal within both communities is growing and with a Coroner who has lost the trust of Jewish communities. No doubt, you can better believe she has also lost the trust of Muslim communities.