Farewell to Herts’ caring coroner after 30 years
- Credit: Debbie White/Archant
He is known as a coroner who cares, and after 30 years at the helm of thousands of inquests - into everything from Roman treasure to the Potters Bar rail crash - Edward Thomas is stepping down.
The 67 year old, who lives in a rural village on the fringes of St Albans, is retiring as Coroner for Hertfordshire “while I’m fit and young enough to benefit from retirement”.
Edward spoke to the Herts Advertiser before he bids a fond farewell to the courthouse in Hatfield on Friday, October 30.
Regular readers of this paper will be familiar with articles on inquests conducted by Edward, which invariably quote him expressing his sincere sadness for those who have died, particularly those who have suffered with mental health problems or have died in tragic circumstances.
Edward explained: “We always try to find out not just how someone dies, but how they lived. It reminds us all that the victim was a real person and not just someone who died.”
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There are “quite a few” of the thousands of inquests he has presided over which he will always remember.
Edward said: “For example, quite often I will go around various places, and think about what happened there. I remember one daughter telling me her mum loved the bluebells at Ashridge and so when I see them, I think of her.
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“It’s sometimes more the lives of people I remember, rather than the inquest itself – for example if someone supported a ‘funny’ football team, and then I later see how that team is doing, and I think, ‘he would be pleased’.
“I will miss the rapport with families. When I started, one person came up to me and said, ‘it is so nice to see you don’t have two horns on your head!’”
An area of particular concern for him is mental health. Edward explained: “I think life is very difficult for people. If you lose your job, if your relationship has a problem, you lose your housing or people feel they have failed, it is very difficult for them.”
When asked what people should do if they are concerned about friends or family members, Edward advised, “seek medical support.
“But the reality is to try and make your life better, for you to feel more worth. We should be allowed to – I don’t like to use the word ‘fail’ – but actually I get the impression that everything is about success. I hate targets; it puts more pressure on people.
And he has strong views on basic things people can do to protect themselves, such as wearing seatbelts and ensuring tyres are properly inflated on vehicles, and checking the batteries in your smoke detectors at home are working.
A trained solicitor, who qualified back in 1971, Edward came to work in St Albans at a general practice where he started dealing with many cases involving youngsters and people with mental health problems.
He became a part-time assistant coroner in the ‘80s, before becoming a somewhat nomadic coroner for St Albans and Watford, based “wherever we could find a room. We ended up in the solicitors’ office where I was working.
“I was still able to do legal work alongside being a coroner, and was representing people detained under the Mental Health Act at that time.
“The coroner in Hemel Hempstead retired – I applied and got that job as well, which meant the roles were later amalgamated, and I later also become the coroner for Hitchin.”
An opportunity came up for a new base to be established in the former Welwyn Hatfield Magistrates’ Court in Hatfield, which was owned by Herts county council.
Thus the coroners’ service moved to its current, permanent, location in 2003, alongside the county council’s citizenship and registration departments.
Edward said: “We moved seven times in nine years [prior to shifting to the old courthouse].”
He has been coroner for the entire county since 2004, but on the proviso that he retains his legal role.
Edward is one of the few people in this country to help with international adoptions, a role he intends continuing upon his retirement.
He said: “I feel I am retiring at a good time, because I’m fit and young enough to benefit from retirement. I like exercise, I go to the gym and play racquet ball and I like walking.”
Edward will join his wife of 44 years, Ros, a former social worker known locally for her work at Grove House Hospice, in retirement.
Apart from looking forward to visiting exhibitions in London and travelling, Edward hopes to become a guide at St Albans Cathedral as he he very keen on history.
Geoffrey Sullivan, a barrister who is currently assistant coroner for north London, will succeed him.