Older people 'found dead' at home: challenges for the coroner system in England and Wales

Adams, John and Johnson, Julia (2008). Older people 'found dead' at home: challenges for the coroner system in England and Wales. Mortality, 13(4) pp. 351–360.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13576270802383774


This paper arises from current proposals to reform the Coroner Service in England and Wales. In it, we explore the extent to which inquests offer the opportunity to increase our understanding of the situation of older people who are “found dead.” This is a kind of death that might be categorized as a “bad death” and, as such, one that will involve the coroner. Research that has been conducted on older people who have been found dead indicates that coroners' records are an inadequate source of information. We argue that this is because the system of death certification in England and Wales is focused on the medical cause of death. In consequence, the social circumstances surrounding those who are found dead remain unrecorded. We cannot judge therefore the extent or seriousness of this category of “bad deaths” nor whether social intervention in such cases might have been warranted. We further argue that proposals for reform, which were motivated in large part by the desire to improve the chances of detecting cases of concealed homicide as revealed by the Shipman Inquiry, have missed an opportunity to reconceptualize and broaden the role of the coroner in a way that would increase our knowledge and understanding of the circumstances surrounding other “bad deaths.”

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