A GOVERNMENT minister has admitted that the treatment of a Swindon family by the coroners' inquest system was "totally unsatisfactory".

Minister of Constitu-tional Affairs, Harriet Harman, said she wanted inquests to "work properly" to avoid bereaved families feeling the system was against them.

Frank Mullane of Old Town, Swindon, has branded the inquest into the double killing of his sister Julie Pemberton and nephew Will as "wholly inadequate".

They were killed in 2003 by Julie's husband Alan, who later killed himself at their £1m Berkshire home.

Ms Harman was speaking in the House of Commons after the case was raised by South Swindon MP Anne Snelgrove, who said the Mullane family had experienced "disgraceful treatment" from two coroners.

She added: "The first declined to stand down initially, despite his strong link to Alan Pemberton, and the second treated the family with hostility and failed to investigate conflicting evidence under article two of the European Convention on Human Rights.

"Will she assure me that her proposals will mean that coroners will never be allowed to behave like that again?"

Ms Harman replied: "One of the most tragic aspects was that the family, whom I had the opportunity to meet, said: We know this is supposed to be an inquisitorial system, but we felt it was an adversarial system, and we felt that it was against us.' "Any system that makes bereaved relatives feel that the whole system is weighted against them is totally unsatisfactory."

Ms Harman made her comments as she unveiled proposals to shake up the inquest system.

She said she hoped the changes would prevent the need for future homicide reviews into domestic violence cases the route currently being pursued by the Mullanes.

"We have recently legislated for homicide reviews in domestic violence cases, but, arguably, if the coroners' system were working properly, we would not need homicide reviews, as all the relevant information would be brought to the coroner and proper lessons would be learned," she added.

The Pemberton couple previously lived in Castle Eaton, near Swindon, before moving to Berkshire.