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Maria Voisin - Avon's puppet coroner?
Few people know about or understand the reasons behind the sacking, in February 2011, of Avon Coroner Paul Forrest who was initially suspended in August 2008. The reason for the lack of public knowledge about his tortuous sacking process is that, at the behest of the Head of Legal Services and electoral returning officer at Bristol City Council Stephen McNamara, gagging clauses were included in the severence agreement with Forrest and other staff sacked from their jobs in the Avon Coroners' Office in Flax Bourton.
Despite being whistleblowers none of those dismissed are allowed to say anything to anyone about the circumstances of their sacking, or about any of their work at the Flax Bourton Coroners' Court so information has to be gathered instead from what is a plethora of press articles on the long-drawn-out and ugly bullying & sacking process.
Avon Coroners' Court is very difficult for many to travel to from Bristol, particularly by public transport. The infrequent buses from Bristol to Flax Bourton stop over a mile from the court which is situated 'in the middle of nowhere' and there are no signs to direct members of the public to it. The coroners court was formerly in Backfields, Bristol City Centre, and easily accessible very close to Bristol bus station ... but was moved inexplicably in 2004 and subsequently sold to the owners of the Lakota Night Club in Upper York Street.
Since the Norman invasion British coroners have been guaranteed independence from local government and everybody else. Indeed this independence is protected by law and they are supposed to be independently funded as a judicial service. The trouble began though when Bristol City Council took over the payroll service for the coroner and Bristol City Council have used that power to effectively control appointments in Avon Coroners Service, which is against the law.
The trouble got worse when then coroner Paul Forrest was branded "High-Handed and Aggressive" by Bristol City Council's legal team. He began to be told by officers of Bristol City Council what he was and wasn't allowed to say and how to do his job. This included making public statements in 2005 critical of his own service as he described "bodies piling up at Southmead Hospital mortuary" because of a lack of action which he had demanded and lack of funding from Bristol City Council.
Forrest was being told what to do by the council officers even though he was supposed to be independent. Many would consider this treatment as a form of 'constructive dismissal' or bullying and that a robust defence of his position was entirely appropriate.
As well as Bristol Coroner Maria Voisin, Assistant Deputy Coroner Terence Moore is also considered by many to be a 'puppet coroner' who is unlikely to find against establishment bodies such as Bristol City Council, Big Business and Avon and Somerset Police. The change of regime in the Bristol Coroners' Service has been described by one individual close to the process of putting new, non-independent minded coroners in place as "utterly crooked".
It has also been remarked that an avalanche of inquests where Bristol City Council and staff were implicated were dealt with by the Avon coroner as soon as Paul Forrest was out of the way and that once these cases were eventually heard little or no blame, criminal or financial liability was laid at Bristol City Council's door.
One such case was that of Dennis Pring whose dead body laid under a sofa in a Bristol City Council flat decomposing for ten years despite repeated warning calls from neighbours and visits from council staff failed to detect the rotting corpse.