Tributes paid to former Lancashire coroner and football club director

Tributes have been paid to former Lancashire coroner and ex-director of Preston North End football club, Howard McCann, who has died after a short illness.

Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 12:30 pm

He was described as a good friend and a true family man, caring and kind with a keen investigative legal brain.

Mr McCann, 82, estimated he had looked into around 50,000 deaths during his law career and presided over many high profile inquests including the deaths of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay, the notorious case of the handless corpse and the death of Preston student Janet Murgatroyd.

When he retired in December 2004, he was the fourth longest serving coroner in Britain and continued to serve as an on-call coroner for the country for several years. He was president of the Coroners' Society of England and Wales from September 2003 to 2004.

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Howard McCann, former coroner and director at Prestn North End FC, who has died aged 82

André Rebello OBE, hon secretary of the Coroners' Society of England and Wales said: "Howard was a very caring and kind man with a keen investigative legal brain. He was always helpful to other coroners and many of us owe him our gratitude for his support and assistance.

"Though Howard was an excellent lawyer and a judge of the highest integrity, he was kind, caring and compassionate to all. He discharged his duty with great merit and was a credit to the Coroners service.

"One might say a coroner before his time in that his service ethos was precisely the one government implemented nine years after his retirement when it implemented the Coroner and Justice 2009."

Mr McCann was a director at Preston North End FC during the late 1970s and into the next decade, was a life-long supporter of the Deepdale club and a regular match-goer. He was also a keen golfer and was made captain of Preston Golf Club in the year 2000.

Howard McCann, right, pictured on his retirement in 2004, with County Councillor Doreen Pollitt, and Dr James Adeley who took over as coroner

Preston North End's Peter Ridsdale said: "Preston North End was saddened to hear of the passing of Howard McCann, who was a lifelong PNE fan and a director at the club during the 1970s and 1980s.

"Howard worked alongside the club’s owner Mr Trevor Hemmings during his time with the club and on behalf of Mr Hemmings and everyone at Preston North End, we would like to send our condolences to Howard’s family and friends at this sad time."

His son Stuart said for the family: "Dad was very well respected in his profession and well known in the community. He was a devoted family man and will be much missed by us all."

Mr McCann was brought up in the Farringdon Park area of Preston, the only son of Winnie and Joe McCann. He attended primary school in the area before going on to study at Preston Catholic College in Winckley Square.

A keen footballer, he played for local amateur teams including the Corinthian Casuals and St Anthony's Church team.

He studied law at Manchester University and went into private practice in Preston. It was in 1972 when he got the call to become deputy coroner and then senior coroner three years later.

His position became full-time in September 2002 when the Lancaster area was merged with Preston and most of western Lancashire - making him one of only 26 full-time coroners in the country.

Mr McCann believed that the role of coroner was a sensitive one, looking into causes of death and dealing with the families of the deceased. On his retirement, he said: "An inquest, at the end of the day, is a legal court and that can intimidate people. They are often in a distressed state as it is a court that investigates the causes of un-natural death. Handling people sensitively, therefore, is something you must do all the time.

"The upside of it all is that we can save life. It may be, for instance, that there have been a number of deaths on the same stretch of road. An inquest can reveal common factors - and that can avoid the same tragedy happening again and again."

He said that many cases had been difficult, particularly those where a child had died, but one that haunted him was the tragic drowning of 23 people who were picking cockles off Hest Bank in Morecambe Bay when they were cut off by the tide in February 2004.

Mr McCann also presided over the inquest into the death of New Zealander drug dealer Marty Johnstone, known as Mr Asia, who had been lured to Britain to be murdered and whose handless body was found in Eccleston Delph by divers in 1979.

Mark Jolly, who was club captain at Preston Golf Club in 2008 and a close friend of Mr McCann said: "Howard was a very kind and conscientious man, affable with a dry sense of humour.

"He had been a club member since early in the 1970s and his legal background was invaluable when reviewing and updating the rules and licensing of the club, which he did on an annual basis. He was always willing to lend a hand on any aspect of work where the golf club would benefit from his expertise or extensive background knowledge."

Mr McCann, who had suffered a stroke, died peacefully at Royal Preston Hospital on June 7, leaves wife Sheila, sons Simon and Stuart, who both followed him into the legal profession, and grandchildren Alex and Elliot. His private family funeral will take place at Our Lady's and St Edward's Catholic Church in Fulwood.