LAST year the team of family liaison officers at Cheshire Police had the unenviable task of telling 28 families that loved ones had died in fatal collisions.
One of those officers was Police Constable Tony Hayhurst, who has worked as a family liaison officer (FLO) in the Roads Policing Team for nearly 10 years.
To mark National Road Victims Month he has spoken about some of the work his role entails, as well as why he decided to become a family liaison officer.
PC Hayhurst said: “I was initially attracted to the role of family liaison officer back in 2008, having worked in roads policing for several years. During that time I’d attended many fatal and serious collisions, and I’d seen first-hand the effect on the victims, their families and the wider community.
“Having seen the impact these collisions had, I looked for a way that I could make a difference which led me to the role of FLO, which is a voluntary role.
“When I first took on the role I hoped I would never be assigned to an incident. Little did I realise that just nine years later I would have supported more than 90 families.”
He continued: “Thankfully very few people ever need the services of a FLO, which is why many people are unaware of what the role actually involves.
“In short, the role itself in not just about informing a family that their loved one has died or been seriously injured – it’s about bringing a clear head to the complicated emotions and procedures the family find themselves within and providing them with the support they need.
“My role actually begins at the scene of the collision.
“From there I will gather as much information as possible about what has taken place, to ensure I am aware of all the circumstances of the incident before making any approach to a family.
“The hardest part of the role is always the anticipation after the initial knock on the door, knowing you are about to tell this family their lives will never be the same again.”
Reflecting on some of the challenges that come with the role, PC Hayhurst said: “It can often be a risky business, during my time in the role I have been assaulted several times and even threatened with a knife by a bereaved partner.
“After breaking the initial news, the next stage of process depends on the severity of the collision.
“In cases where the victims have sustained serious injuries, the role of the FLO is often about gathering any relevant medical information to pass on to the hospital where the victim has been taken.
“It’s then a case of doing anything we can to reunite them with their loved one.”
He added: “In cases where there has been a death, the first thing we need to do is complete the formal identification process – which sometimes involves taking the family to the hospital to identify their loved one.
“Once this process has been completed, it’s then my job to support and guide the family through the investigation process, which involves many different elements such as post-mortems, inquests and in some cases, trials.
“The process also involves many things people don’t think about.
“For example, fatal collisions often attract media attention. So part of our role is to work with the family to write a tribute to release to the media along with a photo of their loved one.
“As an FLO, I hate the word counsellor. That is not our role and often it’s not counselling that people need when their loved one has died – what the majority of people need is support.
“As their dedicated FLO I’m able to recognise when family members are struggling to cope and I can direct them to the many organisations who offer support. This can include anything from practical advice to respite and mental health care.
“In some cases, collisions can also have significant financial implications – whether that’s paying bills and mortgages or funding for their home to be adapted to accommodate for the injures they have sustained.
“In these circumstances I am able to signpost victims and their families towards suitable legal assistance and support networks able to provide long-term care.
“Another part of my job is to ensure the family is kept up to date throughout the investigation process, which can take anywhere between five to 12 months. Once the investigation has been completed, the next stage is to either pass the file to the Coroner to enable an inquest to progress or pass it to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for consideration of a charge.
“In cases where the CPS agree that there is sufficient evidence to charge someone in relation to the collision, the next is part of the process is to explain to the family how the courts work and discuss whether they want to attend.
“Once they have made their decision, I then support them throughout the trial.”
He continued: “Once the trial or inquest has concluded, the FLO will generally begin to withdraw their support.
“However, in my opinion the role of the FLO never really ends. All of the families I have supported over the past nine years still have my contact number and can call whenever they need to get back in touch for any reason.
“While the role of FLO can often be difficult, it can also be a rewarding role. As an officer I have always given my absolute all to fatal and serious collisions as to give anything less would be failing the communities I joined the police to serve."
See full story in the Chester Leader