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Bereavement due to suicide

Police involvement

Someone from the police usually informs close relatives about a death due to suicide. The police should pass on information, and if appropriate, tell people where they can find more information, help or counselling. Most people we talked to said that the police were efficient, compassionate and courteous. A few thought the police needed more training and needed to think carefully about the words they used when delivering bad news (see ‘Finding out’).
 
 

A young policeman made what Barbara thought was an ill-judged remark about her son (Matt)’s...

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Age at interview: 68
Sex: Female
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Yes, what I remember, two [police] men, the one in charge I felt was very, very good, I mean, what can one do in such circumstances, he was the one who offered to make the tea, and I, I made it for them. The other one was younger, and I, I’d probably make the same, I thought it was a mistake at the time, it, it was so awful, it was just that my husband said that Matt probably did like to drive quite fast and had once had a minor accident, and I said that he drove into the back of somebody because there was a hold up further on and coming round the bend, this was some holiday somewhere and he went into the back of the car, and it was nothing serious with which, it was what had happened, but the young police officer said, “Oh but that is serious, my wife, somebody went into the back of my wife’s car and it’s taken her months to recover,” and that’s very sad, it is very sad and I understand that but I, I felt at the time, if he had perhaps had been older and wiser, perhaps he needn’t have said that.


Mm.


It seemed, well it just didn’t seem fitting but I’m sure he didn’t, I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it but….

Steve said that the police woman who called was excellent and that she answered all his parents’ questions about his sister’s death as well as she could. However, Bob thought that while the police were good at answering questions they did not volunteer information unless asked.

The police and the coroner’s officer also investigate the circumstances of the death. People recalled that policemen took statements and looked for evidence about the cause and circumstances of the death.
 

The policeman was very patient and took his time getting the information he needed from Arthur at...

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Age at interview: 70
Sex: Male
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And because I was so distraught this poor policeman had to get all the details from me.  And I think it probably … even to now I can’t remember it must have been many hours because I was just in such an awful [state], so much sorrow. 


Of course.  So did the policeman stay with you in the house?


He stayed with me in the house taking the interview because we went, whilst there was quite a few people in the house, at the time, when the, the police arrived. I finished up in my office in the house being interviewed by the policeman. And there was just he and I which obviously he wasn’t … he didn’t want any information from anybody else. And that just took hours, literally hours to get the information he needed.  But one thing he did want of course was the letter that been left to me. 


Hmm. How did you feel about giving him the letter?


I can’t remember it because a lot of things was happened that were just vague at a certain point, points. 


Hm.  But he had a good approach you said he was kind…?


Oh yes provided I got it back I must have said to him at the time I would need the letter back which I still have now. 

 

Hmm. But you said he was very compassionate?


Oh yes he was, he was though he was very … he wasn’t rude in anyway. He just took his time. He let me tell him what I wanted to tell him as as and when I was able to …

 

Hmm.

 

…in between the grief.

 

After Stephen’s wife died the police were efficient, sensitive and apologetic as they looked...

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Age at interview: 45
Sex: Male
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Yes, we called the ambulance and then when they arrived, called the police. Something like that. The main thing I remember is that, once, as it was all sort of starting to sink in, I wanted to find, I wanted to see if she had sort of written a note because you know, if nothing else I just wanted you know some sort of explanation you know? And I, I know subsequently in a lot of cases that, you know, that that there isn’t a note written. And luckily she, luckily she had done, and that was, that was a big relief, just to have something, some, some sort of like token but it was a strange start.

 

I mean I remember the police, and when the ambulance came they did what they were, they were going to do then the police came, and, that was very, that was very odd because of course I’m chief suspect, and they have to treat me like that, you know until they’ve actually discounted the possibility that there may be any sort of, any sense of something happening, some wrong doing, but they were excellent, I have to say they were you know they, the inspector was fantastic, extremely sensitive and very apologetic that you know, you know he didn’t have to say what you know what was what, what I know was on his mind, it was like, you know, I know it sounds awful but you know, you know you are obviously a suspect until and until we, till we, you know and they look around the house and all of, I don’t know, I don’t know how they decide whether or not there are suspicious circumstances but anyway, there weren’t any.


You say the police were very caring and compassionate, is there any, any lessons to a policeman, is there anything that they could’ve done differently that you would’ve liked or?

Not this particular policeman, no, no, no he was very sensitive, I mean he, as I said when he first, when they first arrived, I mean clearly, I am, you know a suspect, until they’ve excluded me from the investigations, and I guess I, I could’ve got upset about that I don’t know?

But they were very caring?

They were very caring and so, I don’t know, they just, well I felt for them to be honest.

Mm.

I mean I felt what a horrendous situation to have to come into. I mean you know having to come into a situation where they, to do their job professionally they had to treat me as a suspect, and how horrible that must make them feel.

Mm.

But you know, I just, I felt pity for them, to be honest, but very efficient, very kind, faultless, I mean as, if there was an example of how to do it, it was, it was, it was that. Yeah, I mean they were just fantastic. Good.

The police helped people in many ways. For example, they helped Lucy deal with the media, and they helped Jacqui get to school quickly when she needed to reach her children to tell them that their father had died. Some people recalled other special actions that the police had taken, which were much appreciated.
 
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The police took Stuart to see the spot where Anne had been found in her car. He thought this was...

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Male
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And the police, the police said that, “Oh we’ll come round straightaway.” And I said, “Look, there’s no point in coming around straightaway if she’s done anything she’s done it.”


Mmm.


“I’ve got to get my son to bed.”


Mmm.


And I tried to get him to bed, you know, so I got him off to bed and then  when they were coming around I found a couple of notes that she’d left, so I let them know that as well, and when they arrived they said, “Oh you know we’re really sorry but on the way we found a car that matches Anne’s description, you know, we’ve had a report of a car that matches the description with a female found inside it.” Before that they said to me, “Oh you may want to sit down.” [laughs] which is like pretty obvious, what’s coming in a way isn’t it? 


Did they stay with you for a while?


They did, they were quite good, the good thing that they did, which was really good and helpful was that they took me to the spot where she’d been found, on the same night, which I thought was quite helpful for me, for others it might not have been helpful but for me it was really helpful.

 

Alex and Felicity were most impressed by the thoughtful action of a policeman who sent them...

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Male
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The only involvement with an official I think in Glasgow was with a policeman who was designated to be in charge of the case, who was also extremely good, extremely sensitive, he really yes, throughout he was very aware of our situation as a family, there was a later episode which I found very striking which was that when he’d later gone through Alice’s papers and her effects, as part of his investigation, he discovered something that she had written and intended to say at her grandfather’s funeral which was taking place a week or two later. And he realised what this was, and although he couldn’t release the document, he faxed it to us in order that it could be read at the funeral. In fact the fax never arrived, and he took the trouble to ring again to see whether it had arrived, and when we said we didn’t know about it, he then copied it out and resent it a second time. It was a very small thing in a way, but it was indicative I thought of on the personal level, but also the, presumably the culture of the police they have tried to develop there, in cases like this which I found very impressive.
 

The police stopped all the traffic for Anna’s funeral. Kate said that the police had been very...

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Age at interview: 55
Sex: Female
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I’ve always had great respect for the police although Izzy didn’t [laughs]. My daughter wants … Jenny wants to join the police force, always has done. I’ve always had great respect for the police. They were incredibly sensitive, very sensitive and very supportive.  At Anna’s funeral they stopped all the traffic, because it was a huge cortege,  plus a horse drawn… They’ve been very, very sensitive … understanding … you know they deal with suicides everyday.  They deal with people’s distress, you know accident, murders, deaths … they deal with everyday. 

 

And they were very … I. I will always remember that young police officer saying to me when I found Izzy and he just said, “All I want to do is to give you a cuddle.” [laughs].


Did he feel he could?


And I just said, “No, I’m okay, I’m all right.”  But he … I think if he cuddled me I would’ve broken down then. 

A few people recalled certain bad experiences they had had with the police after someone had died. At times more tact and understanding were needed. Two people said they had been very unhappy about what happened when they went to collect the dead person’s possessions from the police station. Marion thought the police were unprofessional, unhelpful, and ill-equipped to deal with someone in her situation.
 

A policeman did not know how to get into the mortuary. When Marion went to the police station to...

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Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
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And you would have liked to have known more about the manner of his death then when you were told?

Yes, yes, yes. They did say to me that they couldn’t actually tell me that he’d committed suicide because the Coroner has to give that verdict. But having led me, led me to believe he’d had an accident I was thinking fractured skull, come off his motorbike, something.

The policeman that took us to the mortuary was singularly ill equipped to do that. He was very young. He didn’t speak to us all the way there. I sat beside him. My elder two sat in the back and we all held hands through the gap in between the seats and he [the policeman] never spoke to us. He didn’t know how to get into the mortuary so we had to walk round it twice. Those things are really important. You just need somebody to be in control and he obviously wasn’t. He didn’t speak to us all the way back again either. He dropped us at the, at the gate and as he drove away as I said the reporters turned up.

Oh.

I wanted, I wanted them to sort of

Look after you?

Be, be a buffer. Yeah to look after me and there wasn’t anybody there to do it. I needed somebody professional to do it. They, they were even worse when I went to collect his effects. They were even worse then.

What happened then?

I had a phone call saying would I go and collect my late husband’s effects and I made the appointment and got to the local police station and [pause] as I opened the door there was a very young constable standing with his back to the door obviously talking to somebody behind the desk. And he said as I walked in, it was unfortunate for him, as I walked in he said, “Oh and that suicide’s widow will be up here soon to collect the silly sod’s stuff”.  And I remember thinking if I hit him I’ll probably end up in a cell and I just said, “That suicide’s widow is behind you”. Well, to say he wished he could have collapsed in a heap is an understatement. His face was a study. He didn’t apologise. He just asked me to sit down for a few minutes, by which time I was very near collapse I can tell you. And this was, this was towards the beginning of March so it was quite a long time afterwards. And he eventually came and got me and took me through. They left this young man to deal with me. He took me through this filthy, dirty, smelly little office with no windows, really dark and horrible. And then he went and came, got, disappeared and came back again. Went and got a Sainsbury’s carrier bag, out of which he took the wallet, and various things, keys, Graham’s watch, a few other things that he had. And then to my absolute horror he produced the paracetamol bottle and the whisky bottle. …And there was a drop of whisky left in the bottom of it and he asked me if I wanted it measured, as if I cared. And then he told me that my husband’s motorbike was still round the back of the police station and that had to be moved. And then he put the whole lot back in the carrier bag, gave me a piece of paper to sign which I did and showed me out.

And at that point I think I lost the plot completely. I remember driving down the road and stopping outside our local chemist. I knew the pharmacist quite well professionally and I walked into the chemist and he just happened to be in the shop thank god. And he took one look at me and said, ‘What on earth’s happened?’ And I said, ‘What am I supposed to do with these?’ And he took the whisky bottle and the paracetamol bottle and he said, ‘I’ll deal with those for you’.

And I thought why. I’ve said to the police since, if he’d hanged himself would you have given me the rope?

 Incredible decision.
 
And they said, “Yes”. Now I’ve spoken to people at SOBS conferences, SOBS retreats and they do actually do that. It’s part of the deceased’s effects. Would you want the rope your husband hanged himself with, because I wouldn’t. Whether it’s just one police force that does it I don’t know, I don’t know but what I wanted at the time and for the period afterwards up until that, what I needed was to have one person with one name that I could go to if I needed some help. And what I got was passed around the police station and people referring to me as a ‘suicide’s widow’ and referring to him in terms that were derogatory to put it mildly. It was unfortunate that I heard it. I’m sure I wasn’t intended to.

 

The police woman did not return Stuart's calls. When he went to the police station to collect...

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Male
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…but the other thing that was really, there’s one thing that was really horrible, it was when I went to collect her stuff from the police station, it might’ve been like I was collecting a parking ticket really, the approach they had, they were appalling, the people on the front desk were absolutely appalling, their attitude. I tried to contact, that was the other thing, I tried to contact that policewoman on the night, and I tried a few times to contact her, the woman who’d been around to, tell me, just to say thanks and, you know, this is how I’m getting on but I never heard back from her.

 

But you’d left a message for her did you?


Yeah I’d left two or three messages for her and they never came back to me.


And then they asked you to go to the police station to collect her clothes?


Yeah, then I had to go to collect her clothes and all the belongings and like the bags and when I collected them it just felt.


They just handed them to you did they?


Yeah it was just a, it was just horrible the way they did it, it was just, you know, it was oh you have to sign here and it’s, as though it was a real big effort for them, you know.


How, how could they have handled it better, because policemen might be able to learn from this.


They could’ve just actually just maybe dealt with it in a more private area, got someone who had a bit more sort of training who’s a bit more sympathetic to it who wasn’t treating it as though it was just another task on their daily list to do…


Mmm.


…you know, that’s how they could’ve dealt with it a bit better and the, the policeman, I tried to get in contact with the person who’d come round and told me, she could’ve at least returned my call, you know, it just, that’s again another thing of feeling in isolation and feeling that I got dropped.


Not being followed up.

Dolores was very upset when a policeman told her that her husband’s clothes had all been incinerated. The policemen did not seem to realise that articles such as Steve’s clothes and his reading glasses had special significance for her and were precious.
 

Dolores wanted Steve’s clothes returned. She was upset when she heard they had been incinerated....

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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…Then the police came the next day to take a statement, at the house and I asked for his belongings, and I was told I couldn’t have them that they had to be kept.

His clothes?

His clothes, his wedding ring, his watch.  And I was told I wasn’t able to have them because it would be part of an investigation, and, they had Steve had been writing a wee diary from the Saturday, and they had a copy of that and, they.

Did you get to see that?

They brought me a photocopy of it on the Thursday. The policemen came back on the Thursday because I was too distressed on the, the Wednesday to do the statement and things, and he came back on the Thursday morning and he brought Steve’s wedding ring and his watch and he informed me that all of his clothes and his shoes had been incinerated.

Oh.

And that was just absolutely [sighs], …that’s like something that was taken away from me that was unnecessary, and I do believe it was unnecessary; nobody had that right to do that. He said, “Oh his other bits and pieces we’ve got them but you’ll not get them until the Procurator Fiscal says it’s all right.”  But I’ve never got over the fact that his clothes were incinerated, never.  And this has hurt, hard, that is hurt the hardest because they’d no right to do that [crying] and his shoes, what I’d give just to have those shoes would be a, you know, but it’s all gone I, it’s that whole thing of knowing they would just have been put in a bag and thrown in an incinerator, but they were precious to me.

Obviously they were.

And it’s another thing that’s, taken out with your control, they’ve taken something that they didn’t need to take, and I find that very difficult.


Did the policeman show any compassion when he realised how distressed you were about it?

It’s just a matter of fact thing to him, you know? It’s just, just that’s, you know, “I’m sorry they’ve been incinerated.” What’s there to say?  What’s there to do?  So, I, I have big issues with, I don’t feel it’s appropriate that that be the case, especially in sudden death situations and, so that was on the Thursday, and then unfortunately it was a holiday weekend and Steve’s post-mortem wasn’t done until late on in the next week because, again I was informed, it’s amazing how factual they can be when they want to be, professionals.

I got back his [sighs], I got back his belt, and his reading glasses and, papers that he had on him, you know, his prescription and things, and they were all, because they hadn’t been cleaned or anything they were all put in these police sealed bags, the evidence bags, and they’d all got fungi on them and it’s like, there’s no need for that, you know?  What was it, what difference was having his glasses sitting in a police property office going to make to the, to the decisions?  None, and so when I got them back they were all dirty and the policeman that handed them to me said, “They’re actually all mucky do you want me just to bin them?” I said, “No, no.”  And I just broke down when I got handed them and I hugged them, and I hugged them, and like, back, going back to his clothes being incinerated I miss not having them so much.

Mmm.

And every night I sleep with my husband’s nightshirt on my pillow because that’s the last thing he wore that I have, that I don’t have what he wore the day he died, I only have what he wore the night he slept, that night before and that’s just so precious to me, and that I can see me still sleeping with it on my pillow twenty years from now and my son kisses that every night and says night-night to daddy, ‘cause that’s daddy’s, and he’s actually got to the stage now where he takes it and cuddles it and then I have to go and get it back off him when he’s asleep [laughs] so, ‘cause I need to cuddle it, so.

Last reviewed July 2017.

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