Tributes to Norwich's outspoken coroner James Hipwell

Michael Pollitt, obituaries editorTributes have been paid to the outspoken former Norwich coroner, James Hipwell, who has died at the age of 85.Michael Pollitt, obituaries editor

Tributes have been paid to the outspoken former Norwich coroner, James Hipwell, who has died at the age of 85.

He was never afraid to court controversy as he called for tougher action on drug abuse, bad drivers and advocated legalisation of brothels, but was held in the highest regard in his native Norwich and Norfolk for his compassion and sense of fair play.

He was the last Norwich Coroner, having been appointed in 1983 until he retired in 1994. The Norfolk Coroner, William Armstrong, who served articles under Mr Hipwell and later succeeded him, said: 'He was a wonderful character who was a dominant figure in the legal, civic and community life of the city and county.'

'He was a caring and compassionate coroner, who was never afraid to speak his mind when he felt it necessary,' he added.

Mr Hipwell's his most celebrated exploit, the so-called 'dressing gown' inquest also made headlines around the world in June 1991. In slippers and pyjamas, he opened a two-minute inquest at 8.30am in the study of his Town Close home one Saturday. Later, he explained that it had been a silk dressing gown and that he had looked like Noel Coward.

Born in Norwich, he joined the Royal Navy and commanded a tank-landing craft, which landed on Utah beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, after a 19-hour voyage across a choppy English channel.

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He was de-mobbed and qualified as a solicitor in 1947, joining a long-established firm, Russell Steward & Co and becoming the country's youngest clerk to the magistrates at the age of 29 advising the Taverham Bench. He served two other courts including Depwade Bench at Long Stratton, where he made national newspaper headlines after using Dinky toys to demonstrate the actions of defendants in careless driving cases.

During his 18-year career on Norwich City Council - he was Sheriff in 1966 - he criticised the 'soulless' design of certain council houses built in recent years. Elected at a by-election in 1951, he was the first Conservative to represent Mousehold but lost his seat a year later. He was returned in 1961 for St Stephen's ward until 1978 when he represented Costessey on the county council for a three-year term.

His record of public service included chairman of the Broads Society, a member of the Broads Authority, and governor of schools in Norwich.

He was president of the Norwich branch of the Royal British Legion, and life vice-president of the Normandy Veterans' Association.

Married five times, he leaves a widow, Wendy, and four children, Carolyn, Rupert, Piers and Alexandra, and 10 grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements to be announced.