Birmingham & Black Country

Dead bodies exhibition: Doctors call for coroner inquest

Dr David Nicholl Image copyright Dr David Nicholl
Image caption Dr David Nicholl says the men's cause of death is unknown

The cause of death of more than 20 men whose skinless bodies are on public display should be probed in an inquest, doctors say.

Medics have launched a petition stating the Chinese men's cause of death is "unknown" and possibly "unnatural".

Their open letter to Birmingham's coroner Louise Hunt asks her to investigate the bodies on show at the NEC on the outskirts of the city.

The American organiser says suggestion of unnatural deaths is "fake news".

WARNING: Some may find the following images disturbing

Real Bodies: The Exhibition bills the specimens as "real, perfectly and respectfully preserved human bodies".

When the display was in Australia, a group including doctors, lawyers and scientists called for it to be shut down, claiming it was exhibiting the bodies of executed Chinese inmates, including political prisoners.

Image copyright IMAGINE EXHIBITIONS
Image caption The preserving technique involves replacing the body's liquids and fats with plastic

The company behind the show, Imagine Exhibitions, branded those allegations "lies" and "sensationalism".

Among the doctors behind the latest protest is David Nicholl, a consultant neurologist at City Hospital Birmingham.

In the letter to the coroner, Dr Nicholl says there is "no suggestion" importing the deceased into the UK is illegal.

But he claims, with regard to the Australian exhibition, that Imagine Exhibitions has been unable to provide information regarding "consent or cause of death, merely stating [the bodies] were 'unclaimed'".

Image copyright IMAGINE EXHIBITIONS
Image caption The bodies of the men were described as "unclaimed"

Dr Nicholl told the BBC: "I'm looking for the coroner to investigate the cause of death and any suspicions surrounding the circumstances of their death as the bodies are now within her jurisdiction.

"Would the [exhibition] organisers have the death certificates to prove how the men died or sought consent from the next of kin to allow a commercial exhibition?"

Birmingham Coroner's office said: "The senior coroner has received the letter from Dr Nicholl and is considering its contents."

Imagine Exhibitions president Tom Zaller questioned what proof there was for unnatural causes of death, adding: "I am tired of baseless claims and fake news."

He said the Australian exhibition was still open and the NEC display was "another version" of the "same content" but with "other specimens".

Image copyright IMAGINE EXHIBITIONS
Image caption The bodies on display in Sydney are different to those brought to Birmingham

Mr Zaller said the specimens did not belong to the company, but were displayed in partnership with the bodies' owner - a Chinese medical university.

According to what Mr Zaller describes as a "certified legal declaration", the university states the specimens are unclaimed bodies, legally authorised to be received by morgues which, in turn, are legally permitted to be donated to the institution for "preservation, dissection and exhibition".

It adds it only accepts legally-donated specimens "certified to have died from natural causes".

Those on display, it says, have been inspected by the university and there is no evidence of them receiving "trauma or physical abuse associated with torture, execution or other violent injury".

Stating the findings had been corroborated by independent experts in the US, Mr Zaller said: "The coroner for the relevant local authority where the body is discovered determines the cause of death.

"All of the specimens on display in our exhibition are unclaimed bodies. In order to qualify as an unclaimed body, the police will not have been able to identify or locate a next of kin."

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