BREAKING the news that a loved one has died or been seriously injured is not a job for the faint-hearted, writes Miranda Newey.
But for police family liaison officers (FLOs), helping people during the most traumatic times of their lives is part of the job.
PC Greg Entwistle, a family liaison officer for Greater Manchester Police’s serious collision investigation unit, said the role involves supporting relatives, from the aftermath of the crash up until after the court process if a prosecution is pursued.
PC Entwistle, who has been an officer for nearly 28 years, said: “Having family liaison officers is important to help people through what is probably the worst thing that has ever happened to them in their lives.
“We all die but you don’t expect to go out to work and not come home again. It is the suddenness of it all.”
The work of an FLO starts as soon as an incident happens - police work to establish the identity of a person and then inform family members.
PC Entwistle said: “If it is a pedestrian or a jogger, they may have no identification on them. That’s when the challenge starts.
"When we don’t know who the person is, we use physical descriptions, tattoos or mobile phones to help. We can also use fingerprint evidence.
“Next, we need to break the bad news to the family. You don’t know what sort of reaction you will get when you knock on that door. You take a deep breath.
“Some people are highly emotional. Sometimes you get anger directed towards you because you are the bearer of bad news.
“You have to be adaptable. You cannot get emotional and you have to keep a barrier between them and you.
"Sometimes it’s very difficult not to get emotionally involved. Sometimes it takes a couple of days to overcome it, but then it clams down.”
Officers may have to take the family to hospital to see the injured person. Or they may have to take them to identify a body in tragic circumstances.
Police then work with the family, getting them through a criminal court process or supporting them through an inquest.
PC Entwistle said: “It’s about guiding people through the minefield of the legal system. Sentencing is another hurdle, as people sometimes think if someone has killed someone with a car they should be in prison forever. But it doesn’t work like that.”
He said FLOs work with relatives to create victim impact statements to be read out in court cases, which allow people to have their say on the aftermath of the crime.
They also collate information, such as an autobiography for coroners’ inquests, and write tributes to be released to the media following a death.
The force’s serious collision unit is based in Eccles, but officers respond to incidents across the forcewide area.
The job also involves signposting people to other agencies, such as road safety charity Brake, and Winston’s Wish, a cause for bereaved children.
Family liaison officers also work in other units in the force, such as dealing with murder victims.
He added: “I don’t think I could do the job if it wasn’t rewarding. People always say they join the police to help people and, in my job, you deal with people getting probably the worst news they will ever get.”