SOUTHAMPTON’S coroner is stepping down after more than 20 years of probing hundreds of deaths.

Keith Wiseman, Her Majesty’s Coroner for Southampton and the New Forest, confirmed his retirement after his last inquest today.

Over the years, the 68-year-old has been a well-known figure in both the world of sport and law. His deputy, Gordon Denson, will also be stepping down after 20 years’ service.

Grahame Short will take over when the Central Hampshire Court, which covers Winchester, Eastleigh, Andover, Romsey, is combined with Southampton and the New Forest as part of cost-cutting measures.

A Hampshire County Council spokesman said: “Both have diligently served the public throughout this time, investigating the circumstances of deaths.”

Paying tribute to Mr Wiseman’s long service, Hampshire police commissioner Simon Hayes said: “Keith Wiseman deserves a long, healthy and peaceful retirement.

“As HM Coroner for Southampton and the New Forest for the past 20 years, he has performed his role with absolute integrity.

“In court Mr Wiseman appeared to be a sympathetic, caring and understanding man whose thoughts focused on the families of the deceased.

“To this end he ensured that inquests he presided over were able to bring some degree of closure for those who had unexpectedly lost a loved one.

“I also respect the fact that he was not averse to being outspoken when there was a need to be.

“Evidence of this was seen following the recent inquests into the deaths of four young children and also of those with mental health problems that resulted in patients taking their own life.

"I wish him well.”

Mr Wiseman, 68, was appointed coroner in 1993 after a legal career in Hampshire that began in 1970, when he qualified as a solicitor and included an appointment as a circuit judge.

He went to school at Southampton’s King Edward VI School before moving on to Oxford University. However, he has also been a key figure both locally and nationally in sport.

As a youth he was a tennis ace, becoming a Hampshire junior champion as well as playing at Junior Wimbledon before dominating county lawn tennis for years to come. In 1987 he joined Southampton FC board of directors.

Within just nine years’ time he had risen to be the most powerful man in football, become the youngest Football Association (FA) chairman, aged just 51.

As reported by the Daily Echo, Mr Wiseman resigned as FA chairman in 1999. This followed an FA executive committee vote of no confidence after it was revealed that the organisation had agreed a £3.2 million grant for a Welsh FA youth development scheme in return for their support in England obtaining a seat on FIFA’s executive committee.