9th Dec, 2016

Inquest into mystery death of Coventry council deputy leader Phil Townshend set before May elections

Les Reid 15th Feb, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

A CORONER’S inquest is expected to be held in public on April 29 into the mysterious shock death in office of former Coventry city council leader Phil Townshend, we can reveal.

If that ‘provisional’ date is confirmed, the inquest will be held in the run-up to May’s council elections.

The venue will be the Warwickshire Justice Centre, Newbold Terrace, Leamington Spa. Coventry and Warwickshire share the same coroner, Sean McGovern.

It is nine weeks since we revealed an inquest was to be held, after an initial post-mortem had failed to establish the cause of death.

The 57-year-old Labour politician and lawyer’s death was announced after he was found at his Allesley village home in Coventry on October 15 last year.

The 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 were ordered by the coroner after the initial post-mortem. They look for evidence of dugs, alcohol or other poisoning where the cause of death is suspicious or not known.

A Coventry Observer investigation revealed in November 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.

Coun Townshend was also an ex-chairman of University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust.

The coroner’s office told us in December: “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.”

The Warwickshire coroner’s office confirmed today the date of April 29 has been provisionally set ahead of an announcement, while further reports are awaited and parties are notified.