NEWS FROM THE CELTIC LEAGUE
I wrote to the Coroner of Inquests a few days ago (see article on these pages November 8th CORONER URGED NOT TO MISS DEATHS CAUSED BY FUEL POVERTY) expressing concern about the possible impact of gas increases and the consequent difficulty people may have in heating their homes.
I drew his attention to the research of Professor Keatinge of Queen Mary University London into winter deaths.
“You will be aware that the Isle of Man Chief Minister recently acknowledged that fuel poverty is a problem on the Island. You will also be aware that increases in energy charges, most recently gas, will create difficulties for some people in heating their homes. The elderly, disabled and those with small children on very low incomes will be particularly at risk”
“I’m sure that sadly you inquire into many deaths caused by strokes or heart attacks each winter however I have never noted any comment as to a contributory factor of winter cold (please correct me if this is an omission).
Could I ask that in relation to sudden deaths this winter amongst the vulnerable groups outlined above that you do ensure that winter cold caused by fuel poverty has not been a contributory factor.
In conclusion you will be aware that there are human rights implications to deaths in which fuel poverty can be considered a contributory factor. The Isle of Man is (via the United Kingdom) a signatory to the (Council of Europe) Convention on Human Rights and the (United Nations) Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights”
The Coroner has responded extremely promptly and in detail to our query and the text of the reply, from his Clerk, is set out below:
“10th November 2015
I thank you for your letter dated 8th November 2015 raising the issue of hypothermia as a contributory factor to unexpected deaths potentially due to fuel poverty. The High Bailiff has asked me to respond indicating that he understands your concern but is not aware of any such deaths occurring in the Isle of Man during his tenure as Coroner of Inquests (“the Coroner”).
Where a sudden and unexpected death is referred to the Coroner, the Coroner’s investigation is usually guided by medical opinion from the consultant pathologists as to the cause of death following autopsy. If hypothermia is deemed by the pathologist, on the balance of probabilities, to be a contributory cause the Coroner would expect it to be recorded in the post mortem report and this would lead to an Inquest. The pathologist, in forming an opinion as to cause of death, should receive pertinent details of the circumstances of the death from the Coroner’s Officer or other officer of the Constabulary in terms of, for instance, relaying a description of the clothing worn by the deceased at the time of death, the general ambient temperature at the place of death in terms of where death occurred in a particularly cold house or where death has occurred against a background of a deceased having access to very frugal resources. That said, as the article that you have helpfully provided indicates, the suggested symptoms of hypothermia are by no means clear-cut and may be masked by similar symptoms arising through chronic comorbidities in persons of advanced age.
The High Bailiff is aware that hypothermia was a contributory factor in a death in April 2014 which led to an inquest, however in that case the hypothermia had been caused by pre-terminal circulatory arrest due to head and chest injuries as a result of a fall. There was no suggestion that the hypothermia was caused by the deceased’s inability to heat their own home.
Nevertheless, the fact that no such deaths have been identified in the recent past does not mean that the High Bailiff as the Coroner is complacent on the issue. The High Bailiff has reminded the Coroner’s Officers of the need to remain vigilant in identifying and conveying to the consultant pathologists any particular domestic circumstances suggestive of hypothermia being a cause of, or contributory factor in, a sudden or unexpected death.
The High Bailiff has asked me to thank you for raising the issue with him.
Clerk to the Coroner of Inquest”
The Celtic League is grateful to the Coroner and his staff for their expeditious response.
As the letter points out that ‘pertinent details of the circumstances of the death’ will in the first instance be gathered by ‘the Coroner’s Officer or other officer of the Constabulary’.
Issued by: The Celtic News
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The Celtic League established in 1961 has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It promotes cooperation between the countries and campaigns on a range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, military activity and socio-economic issues