Police trying to contact relatives over organs stored 'longer than necessary'
Police are attempting to contact the relatives of 26 people whose organs have been stored at a hospital for "longer than necessary".
Northumbria Police issued a statement on Friday that sought to "clarify a number of issues raised" in relation to the discovery, which was made during an audit at South Tyneside District Hospital, South Shields, in March 2015.
Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Vanessa Jardine said: "We understand the gravity of this situation and the devastating effect it has had on the families involved.
"The human tissue samples of cases that happened many years ago have been identified and we have specially trained officers contacting relatives of 26 people to inform them of this.
"We are doing this with the utmost sensitivity and it is our priority to make sure this is done as quickly and sympathetically as possible."
Ms Jardine said the force had taken the matter "incredibly seriously" and was working "tirelessly" to identify and speak to the families of those affected.
The 2015 audit was carried out jointly between Northumbria Police, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust, local coroners, the Human Tissue Authority and the Home Office.
Detective Chief Inspector Lisa Theaker, who is leading the operation, previously stated that specially-trained officers are personally visiting each family to explain the situation.
She said: "We have made significant improvements in relation to the management and retention of human tissue samples and we want to reassure the public that risks of this happening again are low.
"In any unexplained death, human tissue samples are retained as part of the investigation for evidential purposes and to determine the cause of death.
"In some cases, this material can be retained for significant periods of time to support the criminal investigation and fulfil legal requirements.
"We will continue to fully support the families through this process and ensure their wishes are met."
Ms Jardine added Northumbria Police "recognised the importance of carefully managing the retention and storage of human tissue samples collected for investigative purposes", in line with the Human Tissue Act.
Sarah Simpson, from Blakelaw, Newcastle, told The Chronicle newspaper that her father's organs had been taken without his family's knowledge and stored at the hospital for 22 years.
The paper reported that Ms Simpson's 41-year-old father died after falling from a block of flats in Newcastle in April 1995.
She said: "It has been really upsetting. How can they do this after 22 years and why weren't his organs inside of him when he was cremated?
"The police just came to my house, said they found his organs and offered to pay for the funeral. How can that be right?"