A coroner has been asked to stand down from an inquest into the deaths of Britons killed in a terrorist siege because she was not senior enough to hear all the evidence.

West Sussex coroner Penelope Schofield was due to begin hearing the investigation at the Royal Courts of Justice in London this week but has been asked to stand down by Chief Coroner Judge Peter Thornton.

The order was made after potentially relevant documents of “exceptional sensitivity to national security” were involved in the case and only appropriate for a judge to rule over.

Ms Schofield told a pre-inquest hearing today that, initially, she agreed to comply but following "strong representations" from the families, she had decided to reconsider.

She concluded that she was not going to consent to the request but would adjourn the start of the inquest for a week to enable representations to be made to the Chief Coroner.

However it is expected that the likely outcome would be that the Chief Coroner would exercise his powers to make a formal direction which would see her replaced by the current assistant coroner Judge Nicholas Hilliard.

Families of the six Britons and one UK-based Colombian killed during the terrorist siege at an Algerian gas plant in January last year have branded the move to adjourn the inquest as "cruel".