Novel methodological approaches to the investigation of brain and non-central nervous system disorders have led to increased demand for well-characterized, high quality human tissue samples, particularly from control cases. In the setting of the new Human Tissue legislation, we sought to determine whether relatives who have been suddenly bereaved are willing to grant authorization for research use of post mortem tissue samples and organs in sufficient numbers to support the establishment of a brain and tissue bank based in the forensic service. Research authorization was sought from families on the day prior to forensic post mortem examination followed up by written confirmation. We have to date selected individuals who have died suddenly (age range 1–89 years) and who were likely to have normal brains or who had displayed symptoms of a CNS disorder of interest to researchers, including psychiatric disorders. One hundred and eleven families have been approached during the first 2 years of this project. Research use of tissue samples was authorized by 96% of families and 17% agreed to whole brain donation. Audit of families' experience does not suggest that they are further distressed by being approached. Respondents expressed a clear view that the opportunity for research donation should be open to all bereaved families. Despite the sometimes long post mortem intervals, the quality of tissue samples is good, as assessed by a range of markers including Agilent BioAnalyzer quantification of RNA integrity (mean value 6.4). We conclude that the vast majority of families are willing to support research use of post mortem tissues even in the context of sudden bereavement and despite previous adverse publicity. The potential for acquisition of normal CNS and non-CNS tissues and of various hard-to-get CNS disorders suggests that efforts to access the forensic post mortem service for research material are eminently worthwhile. Copyright © 2007 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.