Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Sudden Deaths - I hate them!

I have just been to another cot death. After speaking to the grieving parents I had to go and inform the grand parents. If anyone dies unexpectedly, the police have to attend to establish whether or not the death may be suspicious. It is a part of the job I have always detested. We live in a sterile world now where most people have never seen a body. In the third world it is commonplace.

Years ago I attended two cot deaths in a week when I had a nine month old baby at home. I sat up for hours checking my baby was still breathing and tried to buy equipment that would alert me if he stopped. Anything so as not to go through what the parents of those two young children went through.

More mundane, but a regular occurence, is following an ambulance up to the hospital with a heart attack victim who had collapsed in the road. Booking in the body at the mortuary. Searching the body and recording and securing any property. Removing clothing to check for injuries or any other signs of a 'suspicious' death. Are you aware that many bodies lose control of their bodily functions after death?

I don't know what it is but even after a few hours dead bodies have a dinstinctive smell. I know when an officer has been in the mortuary. The smell stays with them until they have showered and changed.

When I joined the police I hadn't even thought about dead bodies. I have lost count of the number I have now seen. Most were ill or just old, but some have been very untimely and awful. The motorcyclist who lost it on a corner and his face hit a lamp post at about 50 MPH. The farmer who sat in his armchair and blew his head off with a shotgun. The depressed woman who jumps eight stories off the town centre car park. The 19 year old boy who hung himself in the woods. The wife and mother who dies of a stroke in bed with her lover. The woman who throws herself in front of the train.

All of these people had families and either I or another police officer have to go and tell the nearest and dearest that their loved one is dead. Not easy, but do it as quickly as decency will allow in my experience.

Sometimes I hate this job!


  1. There was an incident in my town not too long ago, a male had tied steel cable round his neck and jumped from a roof. The cable cut straight through his neck.

    Thankfully it was dark and I didn't get to see him closely or deal with the incident directly. Some of my colleagues still talk about it to this day even though it was more than 6 months ago now.

  2. Great blog Lex. Very interesting for a non-policeman to see what the job really entails / how difficult it must be to do.

    Just had a quick look at gadget and your post comes as a welcome change to all those about kicking in gangsters etc.

  3. Lex,

    Some things the training can prepare you for.

    some things it just can't.

    Experience can help but in my experience, it only helps us make it easier fior the people we are breaking the news to. it doesn't make it any easier for us.

  4. We had a sudden death in the family last year. As much of a shock that it was for us, I felt particularly bad for the two officers that came to our house to let us know. It happened in a small country town, and the officers knew the family member very well - it was perhaps worse for them as they got to see him in the immediate aftermath of his death, which we were spared. They were almost in tears - I did my best to make sure we looked after them, as it must have been quite harrowing for them as well. They put on an escort for the funeral, and the family wrote to them afterwards to thank them for helping us through a dreadful time.

    It's not your fault they died. Nothing will bring them back. You can't stop the outpouring of grief that will follow, and there probably really isn't much you can do to comfort a grieving family - it's just something that has to be worked through. You've been tasked with the job of bearing the bad news, and I hope some families will realise what a shocker of a job it is and make life as easy as possible for you.

  5. Hate delivering death messages there is no easy way to do it. The worst one was to a student in the east end of london who's mother had died back home in Yorkshire quite suddenly. Did it as we were taught sat here down and said..." We need to speak to you about your mother." She replied " Whats the stupid cow gone and done now?" As my mother was going through breast cancer treatment and not feeling particularly enamoured with her I replied," unfortunatly she's gone and died!" appropriate after care given however why couldn't the family told her instead of getting the police to tell her to call home? That's how I learned about how two of my grandparents died as a student!! Then my family were self reliant and sensible!!! like continuity officer at a serious accident it is a job that no one appriciates or can understands how awkward and utterlessly useless you feel but you are there for the deceased/victim!

  6. As an ex Bobby I dealt with a few cot deaths but the one incident involving death I remember most, apart from a couple of shotgun suicides was a double decapitation where a low soft top sports car when under the back of a lorry lopping the heads off the driver and passenger. Their heads were int he back seat.
    People think Police live in boxes during the time off duty, then wake up come out of the box and go on duty. They think they are not ordinary people with family and friends.
    I get sick and tired of the pathetic rants of people who moan about the Police when all it amounts to is that they have been caught doing something they should not having been doing, moved on when they want to rubberneck at something any self respecting person would not want to look at, or they have been locked up. The ones, which make me groan the most, are the young rioters (thugs) who moan that the Police started it all and they should be allowed to protest as they wish, even when they turn violent, are trying to kill Police officers, burn down buildings and trash our public buildings and statues. Mad world with mad stupid people who think they have a right to be stupid and violent. Then hear them moan when they get a whack with a plastic baton, shame they were not around a few years ago when a whack with a heavy wooden truncheon would make them yelp. They never came back for another go I can tell you.

  7. Well, what's gotta do must gotta do, that's their job. Relatives should never felt remorse on cops if they've been investigated, they only do their jobs.

  8. Like you, I've seen many in my 30 year tour of duty. All ages, sizes and conditions. Had all the same thoughts as you cited and many others we haven't mentioned. Any `old sweat` who says that dead bodies doesn't bother them is missing something. Given the right circumstances and memory trigger and I can see most of the bad ones and all of the sad ones. One's reaction to this sort of thing is most often `normal`. It's the incident, with a few natural exceptions, that is abnormal. Let it move you, but don't let it get to you ;)

  9. Most people don't have catastrophes that large suddenly loom up and ruin everything at once. But sometimes things happen that sap the budget over the long-haul–things like unemployment, chronic illness, or caring for a parent or another loved one over months or years. Sometimes wanting something and trying for it aren't enough.

  10. why on briefing are officers in a west yorkshire town told to ignore minor issues if they suspect muslim involvement ?

  11. Why do officers contiualy ignore false racist abuse claims from taxi drivers in a north yorkshire town, is nothing done because they are muslim?

  12. Why do officers in a North Bradford police station use police vehicals time and time and time again as taxis to collect and deliver home officers whos conduct is disgusting following heavy drinking sessions ? whilst this was happening there was a ram raid going on that lasted for 12 miniutes, it took 35 miniutes to respond to numerous 999 calls