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Towards the end of last year, the road safety charity Brake organised a seminar on the role of the police Family Liaison Officer. The event was sponsored by Lyons Davidson, Pannone, Fentons and Irwin Mitchell, and was well attended, with nearly 100 delegates from a wide variety of sectors present, including police forces, funeral services, fire and rescue teams and local councils.

Fatal car accidents

Julie Townsend, Campaigns Director and Deputy Chief Executive of Brake, introduced the day’s proceedings and explained the work her organisation does in supporting families affected by fatal car accidents or other serious road accidents. She also talked about Brake’s educational programme (including the Brake Care Guides handed to all families on first contact with the Family Liaison Officer or ‘FLO’) and their campaigns to raise awareness and gain government funding. She also introduced attendees to the newest publications, aimed at children bereaved by a road crash.

Child bereavement and PTSD

Next to speak was clinical psychologist David Trickey, who is lead consultant at an innovative new service for traumatically bereaved children and young people in Luton. Dr Trickey began with a fascinating overview of how the brain processes traumatic memories and how symptoms such as avoidance, hypervigilance and post-traumatic stress disorder arise. He then moved on to the ways in which death or serious injury impact upon children. As far as road accidents are concerned, the death or serious injury of a loved one is sudden and it is this suddenness (the inability to say goodbye, the loss of feeling safe and secure in the world) which is the catalyst to the child’s adverse symptoms. Dr Trickey cited very emotive case studies of children in his care who had experienced terrible loss but who, with the benefit of cognitive behavioural therapy tailored to children, had seen incredible benefits.

Police training manual on road deaths

Assistant Chief Constable Sean White from Cleveland Police spoke next. He is a member of the ACPO Roads Policing Group, and is responsible for policy governing the investigation of road deaths and serious collisions. His speech highlighted the importance of the Family Liaison Officer. He took questions from the floor from the numerous FLOs and police officers in the audience, many of which related to his current involvement in redrafting the police’s Road Death Investigation Manual.

PC Mick Jennings, Roads Policing Trainer for West Midlands Police gave a thought-provoking presentation on social networking sites and their impact upon policing. Specific consideration was given to how, in recent years, the media has ever-increasing instant access to personal data and photographs of victims from Facebook, Twitter, chatrooms, blogs and the like. He invited the audience to imagine the photograph of a deceased person was splashed across the front page of a national newspaper before the family had even been notified of the death. Tragically, a similar scenario happened recently, when the father of Anuj Bidve, the student who was shot in Salford, only learned of his son’s death on Facebook. Clearly, management of data and the role of the FLO is a major priority for police forces.

The day came to an end with two case studies, presented by PC Jane Holford, FLO Co-ordinator for West Yorkshire Police and PC Christine Wood from Cleveland and Durham Specialist Operations Unit. They drew upon their own experiences of investigating fatal accidents and the immediate impact upon families of the deceased. PC Holford gave her talk in memory of Mark Goodlad, a police officer who had sadly died in the course of duty shortly before. He, too, had been a much-valued Family Liaison Officer.

Representatives of RoadPeace and Child Death Helpline also addressed the delegates. These two charities also operate systems to provide support to the traumatised families after the death or serious injury of a loved one.

All who attended the seminar found it a very worthwhile day, with a great deal of food for thought. For more information on any of the issues raised in this article, contact our Personal injury and accident claims team.