A CORONER’S inquest is to be held in public into the sudden shock death in office of former Coventry city council leader Phil Townshend following toxicology testing, the Observer can reveal.
Since the 57-year-old Labour politician and lawyer’s mysterious death at his Allesley Village home in Coventry where he was found on October 15 this year, further pathologist’s investigations and toxicology tests were ordered by coroner Sean McGovern, as an initial post-mortem failed to establish the cause of death.
We have learned the cause of death is still not known, and a coroner’s inquest has been formally opened.
It will be heard in public on a date yet to be announced.
The vast majority of deaths are established as being from natural causes and do not require a coroner’s inquest, and those deaths can be registered soon afterwards.
Toxicology tests look for evidence of dugs, alcohol or other poisoning where the cause of death is suspicious or not known.
A Coventry Observer investigation revealed last month the council deputy leader died while being investigated by the police over allegations he defrauded a vulnerable 78-year-old woman; and that his former law firm Townshends LLP in liquidation had still owed more than £300,000 in unpaid tax bills to HM Revenue & Customs.
Councillors had been told his death was announced after he was found at his home by council leader Ann Lucas and cabinet member Ed Ruane, after reports he had been unobtainable.
We also revealed £7,500 of council taxpayers’ money had been allocated for a large reception following a funeral at Coventry Cathedral, and £700 more of public money helped meet the cathedral’s funeral costs.
A Coventry City Council statement in response to our enquiries stated the taxpayer bill was “necessary” for a “significant public funeral” to recognise “councillor Townshend’s significant contribution to Coventry…(and) the deep affection with which he was held by so many communities locally, nationally and internationally.”
Other tributes came from former Labour party leaders Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, and council leader Lucas.
The Observer was told by the Coventry coroner’s office this week that all media enquiries relating to Mr Townshend’s death would now be handled by Coventry City Council’s communications/PR department.
We asked whether that was appropriate, or above any suspicion of impropriety or conflict of interest.
In response, we received the following statement from the coroner’s office: “The inquest into the death of Mr Townshend was opened on 4th December 2015 by Dr Brittain.The inquest will be resumed on a date to be fixed. The inquest will be heard in public.
“The purpose of an inquest is a public judicial inquiry to determine a) Who the deceased was b) When and where they died c)The medical cause of death and d) How they came to their death.
“In line with good practice, HM Coroner and his staff will not comment on on-going cases before the court. The date and time and location of the inquest will be listed publically on the Coventry City Council website in due course.”
Coun Townshend was also an ex-chairman of University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust.
Coventry council said it was not “handling communications” on the death and inquest.
It added: “The dates will appear on our website but we wouldn’t be saying anything further than the Coroner’s statement.”