Investigating official records of suicides for research purposes: Challenges and coping strategies
Simkin, S., Bennewith, O., & Cooper, J.
In many countries worldwide the circumstances of unnatural deaths, including suicides, are subject to official investigations, usually by medical examiners or coroners. In England and Wales, where our experience is based, investigations into sudden or unexplained deaths are conducted by a coroner, an independent officer appointed by the local government authority, who usually has a legal or medical professional background. Findings from the investigation are presented at a public inquest at which the coroner reaches a verdict about the likely cause of death. The paper records of the investigation (the “inquest record”) are usually then filed at the coroner’s offices or local authority archive. The content of inquest records varies, but they generally include police reports, witness statements, postmortem autopsy and toxicological reports, and, where judged appropriate, information on health service contact from general practitioners and psychiatrists. There may also be photographs of the scene of death and copies (or originals) of suicide notes.