CORONER Gordon Glasgow has criticised a decision by Merseyside Police to withdraw officers from the coroners service.

Mr Glasgow, whose jurisdiction includes St Helens says the move could lead to delays for funerals causing distress to countless people. But a police spokesman said the move had been prompted by funding costs and a decision to get officers "out of offices and on to the streets."

Mr Glasgow added: "The Chief Constable, Sir James Sharples has started withdrawing officers from the coroner's department by stages and is not replacing those who retire, or who are taken ill. He is understood to be proposing to issue directives to the remaining officers telling them not to carry out certain tasks - for example, not to advise families on the procedure for registration of deaths, or on how to obtain a death certificate or to help the coroner in giving evidence or arranging an inquest court.

"As I now only have three officers as opposed to five, the stress imposed on these remaining officers will be unbearable. If Sir James is allowed to withdraw these remaining officers I will be unable to function as H M Coroner.

"Inquests will not take place. It will not even be possible to process routine forms for burials or cremations. Funerals will not take place. The mortuaries in this area will not be able to hold the bodies. The human suffering will be unbelievable."

A spokesman for Merseyside police said: "Since 1995 funding arrangements have led to the reduction of 500 posts in the Merseyside police. The Chief Constable has conducted a review to get police officers out of offices and out on to the streets.

"The review identified that while officers working with HM Coroner were performing some police functions, they were mainly providing administrative support. The Chief Constable decided that this was not appropriate and that such resources should be commissioned to core policing to reduce crime and disorder.

"Since 1995 There has been extensive consultation with the coroners and local authorities and lengthy notice was given of the reduction in police officers working with coroners. The police will continue to perform all police functions associated with coroners courts and will investigate all crimes and suspicious deaths. The provision of administrative support is, however, the responsibility of local authorities."

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.