BODY parts from suspicious death cases may have been stored by West Yorkshire Police without loved ones knowing.
The force says it has identified 31 cases where “significant amounts” of human tissue has been kept. In some cases, an organ may have been stored.
It also said early investigations have indicated the some families of the people who have died may be unaware the tissue has been kept.
Assistant Chief Constable Jawaid Akhtar said: “Our main concern now is to ensure that the families concerned are immediately visited by specially trained family liaison officers so we can explain to them personally what has occurred and offer our support and assistance.
“This will include establishing the families’ wishes as to how the samples should now be dealt with, ensuring this is done with dignity and sensitivity.
“I and Her Majesty’s Coroners have written personally to explain and to apologise to each of the families concerned.
“My first priority is to do whatever we can to assist and support the families in delivering what may be distressing news.”
Every police force was asked to carry out an audit of all police premises and mortuaries to identify retained tissue.
If a person dies in circumstances which are considered suspicious or where murder is suspected, the coroner will instruct a Home Office registered forensic pathologist to perform a post-mortem examination to ascertain the identity of the deceased, the cause/circumstances of death and collection of evidence.
During the post-mortem examination, tissue may be removed from the body by the pathologist for the purpose of further investigation such as toxicology, histology and examination by other experts.
These examinations can sometimes take weeks to conclude but in the case of significant parts of the body such as whole organs, the police say every is made to return them to the body for cremation or burial.
Since the issue was raised in 2010, the force says new processes have been put in place to ensure that when samples are taken the next of kin is informed, the samples are only kept for as long as absolutely necessary and are returned to families or appropriately dealt with as soon as there is no reason for them to be retained.