Bereavement due to traumatic death
The Police Family Liaison Officer's role
Where the police investigate a death they have a positive duty to communicate with the bereaved family. Normally a Police Family Liaison Officer (FLO) has this role.
Police Family Liaison Officers are experienced police officers who have been specially trained to enable them to act as such when necessary. They acknowledge that they may “not be able to make things better but can at least not make things worse”.
The Family Liaison Officer is primarily an investigator whose task is to:
- Gather material from the family in a manner which contributes to the investigation
- Inform, and facilitate care and support for, the family, who are themselves victims, in a sensitive and compassionate manner in accordance with the needs of the investigation
- Gain the confidence and trust of the family, thereby enhancing their contribution to the investigation
Many people we talked to spoke very highly about their FLOs. They said that officers had helped them sensitively and compassionately.
The liaison officer was very helpful and answered questions at any time, day or night. He was...
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But throughout this period, and in the last two years, the police liaison officer has been good and very, very helpful. And anytime if I phone and suddenly if I’ve remembered something he will go back to his notes, he will come back within 5, 10 minutes to say, “Well I’ve checked this and double checked this and treble checked this and this is whom I’ve spoken to and this is what happened. If you, you know, you might have forgotten …” because I was in shock at the time, he reminds me. There are certain things that I’ve suddenly thought, “Oh, I never asked about this.” And he very gently reminds me that he did tell me but it, you know, and he then tells me all of the related information. Very, very good.
Oh, that’s excellent.
He’s a very experienced chap and we were very lucky to have him.
The police updated Michelle weekly about the evidence they were collecting for the trial. She...
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The trial took place a year later. It took a year to get everything together. The police were amazing. I can’t thank the police enough for everything they did, they were marvellous. And we used to have weekly updates where they would come round and discuss what they’d found out, what, what they were going to use as evidence, you know there are certain things the police aren’t allowed to tell you, but they informed us with as much as they were allowed to, and they were always just wonderful. They were really good people. They really were, and that went on for a year. And then the trial started.
Could you ring up the police if you wanted information?
Mm. We had their mobiles and that. Yes, they were brilliant?
Did they come in pairs or did they come alone or..?
Sometimes they came in pairs, and sometimes we had one on his own, sometimes you might have five or six of them, you know a whole load of them.
Did you feel they were trying to get information from you, or was it, or was it they were giving you information?
Both really. I mean they had a lot of questions to ask; they needed to build a huge picture. Yes, it was both. But they were brilliant.
Yes, they were very, very good. The case they built was amazing. You know they really did work hard. They really did, and the trial started the following year. And that went on for I think it was two weeks.
After Karens mother died in a fire the family had an excellent liaison officer. She answered all...
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To go back to the Police Liaison Officer, could you phone her at any time if you wanted information?
They gave us a number yes, I mean once we finally met her, it was more a question of who was actually going to take charge of dealing with things, because my sister’s older than me, but she sat there and quite categorically said no, do everything through me. Um, so they said was I happy for that. Well there’s not really a lot of choice is there? So that was fine. And yes, we were given her number, if we needed anything you know well whatever. And they asked that we didn’t actually speak directly to the media because the police were trying to handle the media through them. Because, it was obviously being treated as suspicious so they needed to, to keep a grip if you like on the media to make sure that it wasn’t, wasn’t running off everywhere. So um, but yes she was very helpful.
And you say Family Liaison Officer was the most helpful. Did she come round here every week, every day or?
She was at the end of the phone whenever we needed her. We’d all got her, her number. And so you know, I mean she was at the phone if we needed her, and like as things were progressing she was liaising that back to us. And in terms of like the media and what the police had actually released to the media and that so, so she kept us pretty much up to speed on things.
And she’s based at the police station?
She’s based at a police station, yes.
Sarah pointed out that ordinary families who are bereaved through an illness do not have a police...
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And then did the police liaison officer contact you regularly with updated [information]?
He did yes, probably about once a month. Yes, right through, and in a funny kind of way that’s one of the things that sets this sort of death apart from heart attack things, because if you’re an ordinary family like us you don’t actually have policemen in their uniforms sitting at your kitchen table for an afternoon talking about things, and that happened a lot. And it was kind of we’d moved into a different place, we are now the recipients of care, i.e. we have a family liaison officer and that’s not the sort of thing that one expects within normal life.
People said that FLOs provided information and support at every stage. Some escorted people to the mortuary, and some explained why a post-mortem was needed. They kept people up to date with the police investigation, introduced them to Victim Support and told them about other sources of support. If an inquest or court case was likely the liaison officer also prepared them for that. They also helped with practical matters, such as recovering relatives' belongings.
FLOs sometimes gave support even after their official role finished; they almost became family friends.
The liaison officers came regularly and kept them up to date with the murder investigation. Two...
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Yes, the police liaison officers were very helpful. They were very nice, they were very sensitive and any development in what had happened, you know, to do with the people that had committed the murder, they made sure that we had all the facts and kept us up to date, and they would visit us regularly, and they almost became like family friends really, you know, they were that close really. It was really good to have had that because you knew where you were at all times. And I know some people have had bad experiences with the police but we couldn’t fault them. And all the way through the court case they were, they were always there, and they used to take us down because it wasn’t in the local area. They used to drive us down there every day.
Did you have two police liaison officers did you?
Yeah. We had, we had two, and then I think there was a third, who was for Lloyd’s friends, and like the witnesses and the people that were standing, the people that were going to stand up and talk in the court case.
The liaison officers handled the case very sensitively and kept in touch after the trial. They...
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The Police Liaison Officers were absolutely brilliant, they treated us so well, they looked after us as though we were part of their family, and even after we moved down to Wales, they still used to pop down and see us occasionally, if they’d see us out in the street, they’d stop and have a chat with us. They were very good, they handled the case very sensitively. I’ve got nothing but praise for them.
And then they kept you up to date over the years while the young men have been in prison.
Yes, yes they did, and they kept in touch with us for many years, in fact it’s only since we moved down here that we’ve actually lost touch with them, but anything that was going on in the prisons they thought we needed to know they would tell us, and they were telling us before probation services were telling us. They handled the case very well, and I’ve no complaints at all with them.
Some people spoke very highly of the FLO but particular incidents had upset them. For example, Ann was upset when she went into a shop and saw a Crime Stoppers Poster with a picture of her son. She thinks that the liaison officer should have warned her that the photographs she gave to them might be used for this purpose.
Terri said the liaison officers were fantastic, but one upset her when he turned up without...
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Well, if I could say one thing about my liaison officers, they were fantastic. If there’s one criticism about them I think that sometimes they can be, one of them was a little bit insensitive because literally 18 months after my son’s death he turned up one Sunday afternoon. I was cooking the Sunday dinner. He didn’t ring, and he came to my front door here, my front door here and he said, “Hiya Terri, here’s Ben’s shoes.”
And it ruined my day. And I couldn’t believe he’d done it. No phone call. You see to him it’s just a pair of shoes, but it’s my son’s shoes that he was wearing while he was killed. And it might only be shoes to them but it’s not to me.
And I couldn’t believe it. He just passed them me, not even in a bag. “Here you are.” And that was it. I was crying my eyes out because I smelt them and everything.
No warning or anything. And it’s all in the line of duty. And I think sometimes you’ve got to step back and put yourself in, in the shoes of the victim, haven’t you? And think, you know, how would, how would I feel if it was my child?
A bit more empathy. But apart from that they were brilliant, I can’t really be critical.
A few people said that they'd had to wait too long to see a liaison officer or that the officer was never available, had been insensitive and unhelpful and had added to their distress. When a family member criticised the liaison officer it was usually because the officer seemed to be treating the incident as just a routine matter rather than the tragedy a death is for the bereaved.
After Dorothy’s son was killed in an explosion in a recycling plant they met their liaison officer at the hospital (see ‘Death due to an industrial explosion’). Dorothy found the officer’s behaviour off-hand and insensitive: she had added to her ‘agony’.
The liaison officer added to the familys distress when she described CCTV footage of Marks...
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But the Family Liaison Officer, I think, I can’t remember whether it was because we didn’t sleep I mean, you know you don’t know days or whatever, but she called shortly after, and the family were all there. Friends and family of my daughter in law’s were all sitting, as people do, they collect in houses, sit and drink tea, nobody does anything, they just sit and drink tea, and the Family Liaison Officer called and started to tell us in great detail, she said that Marks’ death had been recorded in CCTV, and they had all been watching it back at the station, and that it was quite horrific, his death was quite horrific, and she started to tell us details then, of just what happened, in front of everybody.
And my grandson was there. And my daughter had flown over from Italy and she took my grandson out and she said, “You shouldn’t have to hear this. He shouldn’t be listening to this.” And she [the officer] actually enjoyed it, it was like she was describing a good film she’d been to, an exciting film she’d been to, and she seemed to quite actually enjoy the gory details of the whole thing.
And to cut a long story short the woman was just absolutely horrendous, she added to our agony so much, so we eventually phoned the police and said, “Don’t send that woman back to this house, because she’s not doing us any favours whatsoever.” And with that the police more or less withdrew and didn’t, we didn’t get another Family Liaison Officer and we got no more, no more help from the police at all.
Did you explain why you didn’t want to have her back in the house?
And they didn’t apologise or send anybody else?
Well that came much later, I made an official complaint to the Chief Constable of that particular force. And that came much later, that was a lot later. Because you don’t know what, nobody comes forward to help. Nobody says. “This is what you do, this is what happens, this is what should happen.” No, this is a new experience, you don’t know, you really don’t know what you, what should be happening.
After Andrew died the liaison officer was on the telephone to Dean but he did not visit the house...
Did a Police Liaison Officer come?
The Police Liaison Officer came to see me about a week to ten days later. I was very disappointed with the Police Liaison Officer. He promised to call, he promised me things, and when, each time I ring he wasn’t there, then he said to me, “Look I was very busy, I’m sorry I can’t, I’ll get back to you.” And I, in fact we had a meeting about it at home, and I said to him, “You must put yourself in my position, that we are going through trauma, for you guys it’s just an ordinary job, it’s just another accident, another casualty. But for us it’s our only son, our only child.”
You didn’t see him for a week?
I didn’t see him for almost a week. Almost. He was on the telephone to me, but certainly not face to face contact.
That angered me immensely. In the end, he, he became very supportive, he realised how we were feeling, and more so, with pressure too from his officers as well, so I saw the officer, yes the police liaison officer.
The liaison officer was cold, offhand and gave contradictory information. Martin wanted a link...
He [the liaison officer] was very cold, clinical, this particular police officer, there was no sympathy. Whether he was just, he seemed to give the attitude that he couldn’t really care, it was just another job for him, “No we don’t know what’s happened yet, you know you’re just going have to be patient. You know, well the bus driver will be interviewed in about four months time, we’ve got six months to do it.” “But four months, what’s that, but we want to know what’s happened.” “Well that’s just the way it is I’m afraid, you’ve just got to let the boys do their job.” And it was that kind of offhand, not, almost off hand, there wasn’t a great deal of comfort or, no, I’d just have thought he would’ve been a bit more sympathetic. I mean he is the, my link to all the legal channels, you know the authorities, finding out how my wife was killed, and he was my link to them, and he wasn’t particularly helpful, he didn’t phone me up for weeks, months at a time, not even to just to check on how I was doing really.
Nothing else happened until after the interview with the bus driver, and then he got a few things wrong. He told us first of all that all the charges were going to be dropped against the bus driver, when they hadn’t been. Then he had to come back and told us, told us that it was decided that he was going to be charged with death by dangerous driving. And I was like… this was in the space of a few weeks of each other, we didn’t really hear off him until then, until the court case, which happened in May this year.
He wasn’t, he didn’t, he didn’t become a friend, put it that way, and I would’ve liked him to, you know I really wanted that link between myself and the authorities, because I didn’t know what was going on and still didn’t know why the bus driver had lost control and crashed they way he did and got onto the wrong side of the road, and killed my wife who was on the pavement. But nothing really happened with the Liaison officer until he closed the case, which was only about a month ago, he came around here with the officer in charge of the case, so the two police officers, and nothing really happened, I wasn’t really able to ask him the questions I really wanted to ask, because I knew this would be the last time I saw him, and I just said, I needed to know certain things about the accident, daft, daft things, for my own peace of mind, like “did she see the bus coming?” And, “how bad were her injuries, did she die instantly?” They’re daft little things like that I really wanted to know.
And you felt you could never ask?
No, I don’t know why, I don’t know why Alison. I don’t know why, I think it’s just because he was, I think I knew this was the last chance I’d get…
When he came round?
Yes.Yes to kind of, he came he came round to give a summary of why the case against the bus driver collapsed after four days, because of a CPS expert medical witness, changed his story in the witness box, basically the bus driver was going to claim that he’d has this micro-sleep at the wheel, it was the CPS’s stance that he hadn’t, he’d had this coughing fit and he should have pulled over, but he carried on driving while he was coughing. And that’s why he’d lost control of the bus.
Although FLOs offer support, their main role is to gather evidence and information from the family to help with the investigation. People are not always aware of this and so tensions arise.
Misunderstandings may occur if people don't realise the liaison officer is an intermediary...
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Some of the misunderstanding that can happen is where families think that the Family Liaison Officer is a support network person, when in fact they are investigative bodies, an intermediary between the family and the investigation team, so it’s important that the family are made aware, in a sensitive way by the Family Liaison Officer, but that the Family Liaison Officer is armed with an understanding of the serious trauma that the family are going through, so that he or she is able to have that two way important rapport with the family. So that important information will be forthcoming from the family, but sensitivity and an expert way of dealing with the family is also going back, so it’s…
Mm. So you think the family should be warned that anything they say might go back to the investigation team?
Well I think they should be told frankly that the police work is about justice for their loved one, and part of that justice will mean that any information that that the family can give is important to that process, and that is part of their job.
Erykah felt that the liaison officers were, understandably, more concerned with solving her brother’s murder than with offering support. Alison also said that she felt that the liaison officers were there only to get information.
The liaison officers called at the house for three months and then suddenly disappeared. This...
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And then what happened when the police liaison officer arrived at your parents’ house?
Well oh gosh, at the time…
Were you there?
Yes, at the time to me, because they came continuously for three months, at all different hours of the night, and I think when you watch the, the, because this has never happened to me before, I don’t know anyone it’s happened to, when you hear of this you kind of think the police come, and you, there’s the crime, and you have a court case, and they was our hope, they was all we had to hold onto. But they was consorting to build up intelligence, and their job is to solve the crime, and that was their objective, it was to, it was to build up a case and it wasn’t for the help that I thought they was providing.
Not to provide help did you say?
Yes, because after the three months was up, they disappeared and you never see them again.
And that’s quite sudden?
It was, it was like another death to me. I often say that at the end of the three month, because your house is bombarded with people, they all come, people you’ve not seen for years, the house is packed, then three months down the line everything’s empty, and the police don’t come, when you phone them you can’t get hold of them and they’re all working on different cases then.
Whereas before that you had a police liaison officer coming to see you regularly.
Oh constantly. They’d phone up, they’d phone you, but they was phoning to build the case and not as your support you know so, then it’s just cut off.
I’m so sorry.
Alison cried when the liaison officers left. She had first thought they were there to support her...
Can you say a little bit about the role of the police liaison officer? You said did you have two, did you say?
Yes, yes. I had two. My mum and dad had two. Now I’ve since been made aware. I thought the family liaison officer was there to hold your hand.
That’s incorrect. They’re not there to hold your hand. They are there to get any information they can out of you. They’re highly trained investigators. And.
I thought they were meant to be sort of communication and …
Yes they’re, yes a communication link. But the idea is they get as much information out of you as possible.
About what you might know and not realise.
And things like that. So I was fairly content with my family [liaison officer]. I did cry after the ten days because you only get them for ten days. And when they said they were pulling out, I did cry because I thought, “Oh no.” They were in and out. Now it’s only ten days. But I think it was after the third day, they were coming in and giving me little bits of information.
And every time they gave me another little bit of information, it sent me rocketing. So eventually I said to them, “Do not come back here until you have the full story because I’m relatively ok. You come here, you tell something really horrendous and I can’t take it, so come back and give it to me all in one go.”
Last reviewed October 2015.