Former coroner takes on Surrey high sheriff role
10:30am Thursday 19th April 2012 in News
A real life version of Dr Sam Ryan in the hit BBC series Silent Witness has just become high sheriff of Surrey.
Dr Karin Sehmer was invested by the Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey, Dame Sarah Goad, at Guildford Cathedral last month.
She worked as a rheumatologist at Royal Surrey County Hospital before she became an expert forensic examiner, helping investigate everything from child abuse to murders.
On a visit to Epsom Downs Racecourse last week, at the start of her year as high sherrif, Mrs Sehmer said: "After working as a doctor, I became a forensic medical examiner for the police.
"This involved seeing to the prisoners in custody and policeman who had sustained injuries whilst on duty, going to child abuse and rape cases and collecting evidence for the police, attending unexpected deaths and confirming deaths.
"I then became a coroner - a job which is interesting, sad and depressing.
"But I have enjoyed it because you can help relatives obtain closure.
"At the end of a very sad inquest of a television producer who had committed suicide, I was told his father thought I was ‘wonderful’ because I had ‘given him his son back’.
"The suicide had been in rather shady circumstances so such a response has to be a good thing.
"Through working with people during the most difficult times of their lives I have learnt not to be judgemental and to have compassion for those who are down."
She has been the deputy coroner for Surrey since 2000 and said she was excited about taking on a role which dates back 1,000 years.
She said: "It is an ancient role which goes back to William the Conqueror.
"Being High Sheriff is a royal appointment for a year and you serve directly beneath the Lord-Lieutenant who is the Queen’s representative in the county.
"You go to royal visits, conduct citizenship ceremonies, visit each of the boroughs and have a strong interest in the judicial system.
"In the old days you would collect fines for the King.
"It is a huge honour and I still feel quite nervous about it all."
Drug addiction is one of the issues Mrs Sehmer aims to highlight within Surrey during her year in office.
She said: "Substance abuse has a huge impact on people’s lives and as a forensic medical examiner I saw drug addicts very frequently in police stations.
"It’s very important to educate in schools to prevent people from starting on drugs and to consider the problems with drugs in the criminal justice system.
"Drugs are widespread in prison and when people come out with nowhere to go, their old friends come along and they repeat the cycle.
"Most addicts spend up to £1,000 a week on their habit and they run risks taking drugs. They cannot be sure of what they are injecting, and to keep up the habit they steal and there is violence involved.
"Whenever you meet a drug addict, they never ever want to be one - they despise themselves for doing it. We should be supporting ex-addicts and helping them to get jobs.
"I spent yesterday with the probation service and was amazed at their dedication.
"In these times of budget cuts, people are working really, really hard and I hope to make a public face of that."
Physical disability is the other issue which Mrs Sehmer wants to highlight.
She added: "With the Paralympics coming up it will be a good time to visit the places which are supporting the disabled in physical activity. Disability does not mean inability and people should be aware of that."
Mrs Sehmer, a Freeman of the City of London, said she and her husband James enjoy frequent visits to Epsom.
She said: "I like Epsom very much. We belong to the Royal Automobile Club which has a branch in Woodcote so we come here regularly, and Surrey will have a box at the Derby, to which we have been invited, which is exciting.
"I have already visited some great charities in Epsom such as MERU, which designs and builds specialist equipment for disabled children, and will also be visiting The Children’s Trust.
"I was blown away by the work at MERU and the dedication shown. It is fantastic, but doesn’t have the same high profile as other charities in the field because people don’t know about it."
She added: "It is a very exciting year - I hope to get a lot of enjoyment from it and to learn a great deal."