Mortuary workers fear that disregard of guidelines in apparently routine suicide and road accidents may be allowing murders to go undetected.
In several cases of suicide in police cells, and others in which allegations of police mistreatment were made, internal investigations were made and blood removed without the pathologist being present.
The Coroners Act, 1988, states that only qualified doctors are allowed to undertake a coroner's post-mortem examination. Guidelines by the Royal College of Pathology say the pathologist has to be present throughout an autopsy. It is the pathologist who has to report the results under oath in court.
One technician at University College Hospital, London, confirmed that he conducts preliminary external examination of the body, opens it and then removes the organs unsupervised. 'We do all that before even the pathologist arrives. I know it's their job . . . but some of them are really, really lazy.'
At Guy's Hospital mortuary, a technician said that he 'tips the organs out and leaves them in a dish' for the pathologist to see later. He also takes blood and urine from the cadavers, a specialist technique that only the pathologist is allowed to undertake. This technician has been working in a mortuary for only 18 months: before that he was a security guard. He has not even obtained qualifications as a mortuary technician, which in any case would allow him only to assist with an autopsy.
At Greenwich mortuary, east London, which handles about 1,700 coroners' cases a year, organs are removed before the pathologist arrives.
Ivan Biddle worked as a mortuary technician at Barnet General Hospital in North London for more than 15 years and for most of that time would carry out a large part of the autopsy unsupervised. He would often examine and open a body and take out all the organs and put them in an unmarked bucket the day before they were seen by a pathologist. In such a case, the pathologist could have no certain knowledge that the organs had come from the body he was examining.
Dr David Shove, the consultant pathologist since 1982, conceded yesterday that this had been the case. He said: 'It was his idea to save him time. I gave him instructions never to do it because it meant the organs had been sitting around all night.' But Mr Biddle, who says that Dr Shove did not object, continued in the same way until he left the hospital in 1990.
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