A new regional forensic centre, one of the first in England, was unveiled at a Midland hospital yesterday.

The new facility is part of a #3.1 million mortuary complex at Sandwell General Hospital, in West Bromwich, which will replace the hospital's mortuary and provide specialised forensic services for nine coroners across the region.

In April 2001 post mortem facilities at the Black Country hospital were branded a health and safety risk as there was only space for 36 bodies, but peak storage reached 130 in the winter. From next month coroners in Warwickshire, West Mercia, West Midlands and Staffordshire Police areas will benefit from investigations conducted at the new centre.

Funded by Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust and the Home Office, the West Midlands Regional Forensic Centre has two post mortem rooms, one of which is dedicated for forensics.

There is a total fridge capacity to store up to 108 cadavers in secure lockable fridges, which include special obese units and separate forensic facilities.

The forensic post mortem room is part of a suite dedicated to forensic work with facilities for up to four Home Office pathologists at any one time.

It also houses a police briefing room with conference facilities, a "dirty area" for scenes of crime officers (SOCOs) for evidence and sample collection, and an X-ray unit.

Provision can be made for defence solicitors and their assigned pathologists to carry subsequent post-mortems and there will be a secure computer database for record keeping of all cases passing through the mortuary.

The complex also includes a chapel of rest, which has been dedicated to the late Dr Norman Gower, the first pathologist at the old Hallam Hospital who began his career in 1947 and retired in 1988.