THE body of the woman at the centre of Leeds murder investigation cannot be released for burial because of a dispute over pathologists’ pay.
A court heard today the body of Michaela Heaton cannot be released to her loved ones following a decision by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA).
Ms Heaton, 38, was found with head injuries on the Leeds-Liverpool canal towpath, off Canal Road, Armley, on Thursday July 17 at around 4.30pm.
She was taken to Leeds General Infirmary but was pronounced dead a short time afterwards.
Kevin Whyment, 53, of Landseer Drive, Bramley, Leeds, was arrested at the scene and is accused of Ms Heaton’s murder.
The issue over the release of Ms Heaton’s body was raised by Whyment’s barrister, Richard Wright, QC, at a hearing at Leeds Crown Court today.
Mr Wright said the murder investigation was still at at an early stage the legal team representing Whyment are seeking a second post mortem to be carried out on Ms Heaton’s body. Until that has been completed her body cannot be released to her family for burial.
Mr Wright said: “There are 35 Home Office pathologists in the country and as of this week the Legal Aid Agency will no longer pay the rate of £153 per hour, but now will pay £122.40p per hour.
“This represents a saving of £30.60p per hour or, assuming a seven-hour per most mortem, £214.90 for the cost of the post mortem.”
Mr Wright said 18 of the 35 pathologists who operate in West Yorkshire have been contacted and all are refusing to take the case.
The barrister said contacted had been made with a pathologist in the East Midlands who may be prepared to take the case.
But he would want his costs and travel expenses covering, therefore negating the savings that would be made under the new LAA rates of pay.
Mr Wright said: “We thought it right to raise the matter with the court because we are seeking to deal with the case expeditiously and are anxious that the body should be released as soon as possible.”
The Recorder of Leeds, Judge Peter Collier, QC, said: “I very much hope that there will be a resolution of this matter. Clearly it is very important that the defence can instruct pathologists quickly.
The judge added: “These are very eminent experts and they have a great deal of experience and skill and it is very necessary that they are there to advise the defence whether there are issues or not in pathological evidence.
“Perhaps more important than than, the courts have concern for the victims in cases where there is a death.
“ When the body won’t be released until the second post mortem is carried out they won’t be able to bring such closure as they can at this stage until the body is released to them.
“I do hope the Legal Aid Agency will be able to sort this out. It does seem to me that savings are notional rather than real.
“I hope that the Legal Aid Agency will adopt a policy that is realistic in terms of costs.”