HE has dealt with nearly 25,000 deaths and held about 3,000 inquests - but now York Coroner Donald Coverdale has retired after more than 26 years in the post.

Assistant Coroner Jonathan Leach has taken over as Acting Senior Coroner but, under national proposals to reform the system, it is possible York will soon share a full-time coroner with North Yorkshire.

The annual report by the newly appointed chief coroner, Judge Peter Thornton QC, said many coroner areas across the country had fewer than 2,000 reported deaths, which was 'too low,' and only had a part-time coroner.

He said: “Each coroner area should have approximately 3,000-5,000 reported deaths each year, with a full-time senior coroner in post.”

The report suggests each coroner area should handle 3,000 to 5,000 cases a year. York handles an average of only 985, the North Yorkshire Eastern office handles 1,040 and North Yorkshire Western handles1,038, so a merger of the three would reach the 3,000 benchmark.

The national proposals are being considered by Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling.

The report also reveals that cases in York have taken an average of an average of 36 weeks to get to a full inquest, longer than most areas in the north-east, with both services in North Yorkshire taking an average of 25 weeks to get to inquest.

It said coroners must explain to the chief coroner why investigations that had taken more than a year had not either been completed or discontinued.

Asked about his decision to retire, Mr Coverdale said he had retired as a practising solicitor several years ago and being aged nearly 67, he was happy to hand over the position of coroner to someone else.

He said he hoped he had been able over the years to help families of those who had died to have an understanding of the circumstances of the death.

" I have also, of course, been particularly anxious to highlight matters that may have contributed to a death so that future fatalities may be avoided," he said.

He thanked journalists at The Press for their accurate reporting over the years, saying he had been impressed by the care taken to get the facts right, adding: "I have seldom, if ever, had cause for complaint."