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Long-Serving Dorset Coroner Retires

Michael Johnston

11:55am 5th November 2012

West Dorset Coroner Michael Johnston is to retire after 30 years in the post.

Mr Johnston celebrates his 70th Birthday this year and Wessex FM's been looking back at his career.

"The advances in medical knowledge and forensic medicine, such DNA testing, means it is much easier and quicker to identify someone than it used to be," said Mr Johnston, who was based in Blandford.

"We know a lot more about fatal illnesses, such as cancers caused by exposure to asbestos. Dorset sadly has had a particular problem with this because the engine rooms of many ships at Portland Port were covered in the stuff."

A coroner must remain dispassionate and professional when conducting an inquest, despite emotions often running high among both relatives and witnesses. But, as Mr Johnston explained, it is not always easy.

"I've always found the deaths of children and young people very difficult to deal with, it seems so unfair," he said. "But thankfully some problems like cot deaths have improved a lot in Dorset over the years."

With his 70th birthday looming, Mr Johnston felt it was the right time to retire.

"Having an inquiring, analytical mind, I've always found the work very interesting - and still do. But I felt it was time to go," he said

And his retirement will give him more time to spend on his farm near Shaftesbury, where he keeps ponies and award-winning breeds of rare Portland and Manx sheep.

East Dorset coroner Sherriff Payne will now take on responsibility for both areas of the county. He will take charge of forthcoming inquests into the tragic deaths at Beaminster Tunnel and Burton Bradstock beach which happened over the summer.

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