Paul Knapman DL was Her Majesty’s Coroner for the central London Borough of Westminster, from 1980 to 2011. He was made Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London in 2008. His responsibility for investigating sudden deaths as an independent judicial officer saw him preside over numerous notable cases.
Cases and events
- Iranian Embassy Siege in 1980
- Libyan Embassy Siege in 1984
- The Clapham Rail Disaster in 1987
- Marchioness Boat Disaster in 1989
- The Ladbroke Grove Rail Disaster in 1999
- 7 July 2005 London Bombings (as Lead Coroner) in 2005
He was most recently in the news(October 2010) when presiding over the inquest of the barrister Mark Saunders, controversially shot to death by Metropolitan Police on 6 May 2008. After the ruling of ‘lawful killing’ Knapman revealed that he would use his powers as coroner to highlight lessons that should be learned by the police for the future and would make copies of his recommendation available to Secretary of State for Justice, Kenneth Clarke.
Marchioness Boat Disaster in 1989
On the 20.08.1989 the Marchioness Boat was struck by the Bowbelle on the river Thames, London. This fatal collision resulted in the drowning of 51 people. Dr Paul Knapman was the coroner assigned to the inquest. Dr Dolman was Knapman’s assistant.
During the inquest, Dr Knapman removed the hands of 27 victims out of the 51-confirmed dead. In some cases, this was performed without the permission or knowledge of the family members. During an inquiry into Dr Knapman’s actions he stated the ‘hands had been removed for identification purposes’. However, it was determined that at least 12 of the victims who had their hands removed were in the process of being identified by dental records.
In 1992 Dr Knapman refused to stand down and also refused to resume the inquest into the victims deaths. In January 1993, mothers of two of the victims, began legal action against Dr Knapman for describing them as ‘unhinged’. In June 1993, after a judicial review The High Court of Justice Sir Thomas Bingham, Lord Justice Farquharson and Lord Justice Simon Brown heard the appeal. Dr Knapman and Dr Dolman were stood down and a new coroner was appointed by the High Court and Home Office, Dr John Burton. Burton granted an Inquest for all the Marchioness families.
In February 2000 Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced that he had ordered a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Marchioness disaster. During a Non-Statutory Inquiry into the Identification of the 51 Victims, overseen by Lord Justice Clarke, the coroner was accused of "arrogance" and lack of concern for relatives' feelings. Lord Justice Clarke also expressed his concerns over the removal of the hands of the victims. The outcome of the inquiry ruled ‘unlawful Killing’. Family members of the victims urged Dr Knapman to resign and stated they would call on the Home Secretary if action was not taken against him. However, Dr Knapman’s continued to act as Her Majesty’s Coroner for London and Westminster.
Knapman went to Epsom College, Surrey, King's College London, and St George's Hospital Medical School, London, where he qualified as a doctor – MB, BS (1968). He then proceeded to read for the Bar at the Council of Legal Education, and was called to the Bar as a barrister in 1972.
- Two medicolegal diplomas, namely DMJ in 1975 and FFLM in 2005
- FRCP (Honoris Causa) in 1997
- FRCS (Honoris Causa) in 1995
- President of the Coroner’s Society in 2009
- President of the Clinical Forensic and Legal section of The Royal Society of Medicine 1995–1997
- Master of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries 2006–2007
Knapman helped found the charity, the Coroners’ Courts Support Service, with a pilot scheme in his court, which commenced in January 2003.The charity won the research, advice and support category of The Charity Awards (UK) 2011. He was the Chairman of the board of trustees of the charity until 2011.
Books and publications
- The Law and Practice on Coroners (3 edn 1985)
- Medicine and the Law (1989)
- Casebook on Coroners (1989)
- Sources on Coroners Law (1999)
- Fatal Shooting of Barrister Coverage – Dr Knapman Recommendations
- Judges Rule that Dr Paul Knapman should have jurisdiction over Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed Deaths