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Information for bereaved families and friends following murder or culpable homicide

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Information for Bereaved Families and Friends Following Murder or Culpable Homicide

Section 2 What you need to know now

2.1 Identifying the deceased person
2.2 Seeing the person
2.3 Telling people about the death
2.4 Personal possessions and property
2.5 The post mortem
2.6 Coping with the media
2.7 Funeral arrangements

What you need to know now

The next few pages will tell you things you may want to know straight away.

2.1 Identifying the deceased person

After someone has died, they are taken to a hospital mortuary or a local authority mortuary.

The next step is a post mortem to establish the cause of death. Before the post mortem can take place, the deceased person must be identified by two people who knew them. It is not essential that next-of-kin is one of them. Identification is often done using a video link.

If you are not one of the people who makes the identification, you can still choose whether or not to see the person at a later time. You can discuss this with your FLO.

There are times when, because of the injuries sustained by the person, the police cannot positively identify them. In these cases, identification is made by other methods such as dental records, fingerprints and DNA from, for example, a hair brush or toothbrush. In some cases DNA samples taken from mouth swabs of blood relatives might be required. Your FLO will explain the reasons for these and how they are used to identify the victim.

2.2 Seeing the person

Deciding whether to see someone who has died is difficult enough in ordinary circumstances. If they have been killed in a violent way, this may make the decision even more difficult.

You may be worried about how the person will look because of the circumstances of their death. The police may be able to tell you the nature of the injuries but they will not normally be able to discuss them in any detail.

Some information may have to be held back so that it does not affect (prejudice) the prosecution case. The police will tell you if they are having to withhold information from you and why. It is important you are aware that this is happening and that more information may come out during the trial.

Being worried or apprehensive about seeing your loved one is perfectly normal. You may feel that they will seem artificial. Or you may not want your last memory of them to be in a coffin or at the mortuary. You may choose to say goodbye or remember someone as they were.

If you do decide to see the person, you should expect them to feel cold to the touch. In most cases, you will not be able to touch the person until their body is released for burial or cremation.

Seeing your loved one can be the first step towards handling grief and helping you face the reality of death. Some people who decide not to see their loved one can find it harder to accept their death.

It may be that you are unable to see the person until after a post mortem has been carried out. This is because forensic evidence is often found on the person's clothes and body during the post mortem. This may help to identify and convict a suspect so it is important that the evidence is preserved. Your Family Liaison Officer will explain if you can or cannot see the person, and if you can see them, whether you can touch them or not.

2.3 Telling people about the death

The police will try to inform the next-of-kin about a death as quickly as possible. They may not know everyone who should be contacted, so let them know if there is someone you think they should contact on your behalf. Or you may want to contact people yourself.

As indicated in section 1.2, if your family is estranged or separated, the FLO may need to tell other people about the death because of their relationship to the deceased person.

Losing someone in these circumstances is shattering. Organisations which can offer support are listed in section 7 and there is space in section 1.1 for you to keep a note of their contact details.

2.4 Personal possessions and property

Personal possessions

Part of the police investigation will be to gather forensic evidence. This is the scientific evidence collected from the crime scene, the body of the deceased and from other people. This may mean the police need to take away personal possessions which belonged to your loved one. This can include clothes and jewellery. Your FLO will tell you the reason for this.

Some of the items may be needed as evidence in a prosecution. They will usually be returned after the trial (or after an appeal, if there is one). It may not always be possible to return everything to you as some items may be contaminated and unsafe. You should let your FLO know of any items which are particularly precious to you and every effort will be made to return them to you. Your FLO will also tell you if any of the property is damaged, or has been altered so that it can be used as evidence. You can then decide whether you want to have that item returned.

What if the crime happened in my house?

The police may take possessions from the house if they are relevant to the investigation. They will have to seal the property while evidence is gathered. This may mean you will not be able to get into your home. If this is the case, or it is unreasonable for you to continue to stay in the house, the local authority will help you to find temporary accommodation, if necessary.

The police will take all the evidence they can from your home and let you have access to the property as soon as possible. You may feel you want to clean your home before living in it again. If you cannot face doing this yourself, the Environmental Health Department of your local authority should be able to put you in touch with professional cleaning firms to do the job for you. You might want to ask your FLO or a Victim Support volunteer to make these enquiries for you.

Even if the crime did not happen in the house, in certain circumstances, the police may still have to carry out a forensic examination or a search of the house. They will explain to you why they are having to do this and try to let you know how long it may take.

If possessions are to be used as evidence in a prosecution, they may not be returned for some time. They will normally be returned after the trial is finished but, if there is an appeal, their return may be delayed. If no one is charged in relation to the death, the police may need to keep some items - such as clothing worn by the victim - indefinitely.

2.5 The post mortem

What is a post mortem?

Shortly after the person has died or the death has been discovered there will be a post mortem. This is a medical examination to determine the cause of death.

If you have cultural, religious or other objections to a post mortem being carried out, you should tell the Procurator Fiscal (PF). They will try to respect your wishes but, in many cases, a post mortem is a legal requirement to prove criminal charges arising from the death.

A post mortem is carried out by two qualified doctors (called pathologists). The Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) and the PF attend the post mortem. This is to ensure that all available evidence is gathered and to get information from the pathologists to help with the criminal investigation.

Possible delay in making funeral arrangements

More than one post mortem examination may take place if an accused charged with an offence to do with the death asks for one. If there is more than one accused, each one may ask for another, separate examination. You may find this distressing and you should be prepared for a delay while this is being organised.

Where no one is arrested quickly, the Procurator Fiscal may have to delay releasing the body for the funeral. This is to preserve evidence until a suspect is arrested and charged.

Post mortem report

The report gives details of the medical examination and will, in the majority of cases, give the cause of death. There may be additional laboratory tests carried out to assist in identifying the cause of death. It can take some time for the results of these to become available.

When the cause of death is suspicious, it is very unlikely that organ or tissue donation will be possible. This is because forensic examination will be required to ensure the best possible evidence.

If the post mortem means that it is necessary to remove organs or tissue, your FLO will be able to tell you or discuss any concerns you have.

If you have any questions, you may find it useful to write these down in advance and to make notes of your discussion. It can be hard to remember things during times of stress. You can use the space at the end of this pack for notes.

2.6 Coping with the Media

Co-operating with the media

Newspaper, magazine, television and radio journalists may be interested in the death and any subsequent court case. They may telephone you, knock on your door or approach you at a court hearing. They may broadcast your name and address.

Talking to journalists and hearing about a loved one in the media may be distressing. Most journalists will understand if you say you do not want to talk to them. Or you might decide that it would be helpful for journalists to cover the case, for example an appeal for information.

You might want to choose a particular family member to speak to the media on your behalf, especially if there is an appeal to the public for information. The Senior Investigating Officer will manage the release of information to the media, to try to get the best possible help from the public to aid the investigation.

On the other hand, you may not be happy to co-operate with the media, and you may find their interest in you, or the deceased person, intrusive or distressing. If you do, you should tell your Family Liaison Officer.

Journalists may ask for a photograph of the person. You may want to consider how they would want to be seen or remembered. Your FLO can arrange for an existing photograph to be altered if necessary - for example, taking an image from a group photo.

What you can and can't say

If you do decide to speak to journalists, you may find it helps to prepare what you want to say in advance. This might take the form of a short statement which you can give out, read or have read for you (for example, by the police or, if you have one, your solicitor). Your FLO will help you with this.

If someone is being blamed for the death, it is important that you do not make any public comment about them which might be detrimental to a court case. The police or your solicitor will be able to give you advice to ensure you do not say something by accident which may cause problems for the investigation.

What can I do if I am unhappy with media reporting or intrusions?

If you are concerned about the way the media is behaving or reporting events, tell the police or your solicitor. They may not be able to prevent the intrusion, but they may be able to take steps to reduce it or provide advice on how to try to cope with it.

For example, it may be possible to persuade the editor of the newspaper concerned to withdraw a comment, or a complaint could be made to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). The Commission is responsible for ensuring that newspapers abide by the industry's Code of Practice. The Code covers issues relating to privacy, harassment and intrusion into grief. A copy of the Code of Practice and details of how to complain are available on the Commission's website at www.pcc.org.uk. or you can phone their Helpline number on 020 7353 3732.

Broadcasters should deal sensitively with these matters and, if they don't, you should let them know. If you have a more serious concern, you should contact the relevant body: the Governors of the BBC, the Independent Television Commission (ITC), or the Radio Authority. You can also contact the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC) if you feel your privacy has been invaded. Information about the BSC can be found on their website at www.bsc.org.uk. or you can contact them on 020 7808 1000.

2.7 Funeral arrangements

When can the funeral take place?

The funeral can take place once the Procurator Fiscal (PF) has given permission to release the body for burial. If you wish to have a cremation, tell your Family Liaison Officer as soon as possible because this will require special permission from the PF. If all the accused have been identified and charged and the defence indicate their investigation is complete, the PF can authorise cremation.

In cases of murder and culpable homicide, the funeral may take place some time after the death. This may be linked to the post mortem or collection of evidence. Some religions say that a funeral must happen as soon as possible. If this is the case, you should let your FLO know. The PF will try, wherever possible, to respect your wishes but this may not always be possible.

Arranging a funeral

If you are arranging a funeral, you may have many decisions to make - for example, where to hold it, whether to have a burial or a cremation, what should be said at the funeral, who should be invited, whether to ask for flowers or donations, whether or not to have a memorial. A funeral director will be able to discuss the options with you.

You will need to consider if any instructions were left in a will ( see section 6.6). You may also want to consider the wishes of others close to the deceased person.

Paying for a funeral

If the deceased person was in work, a death-in-service payment may be available, or the employer may have a benevolent fund which can help. Sometimes an occupational or personal pension scheme will provide a lump sum towards funeral costs. Find out whether your loved one was a member of a cremation society or had a pre-paid funeral plan or an insurance policy to cover the cost of the funeral.

Funerals can be expensive. If you are on a low income, the Government may be able to help you pay for the funeral. A Funeral Payment is available for people who are claiming benefits. This can be paid up to 3 months after a funeral has taken place. Your local DSS office or JobCentre will be able to give you more information about this or you can visit www.jobcentreplus.gov.uk. You will find the numbers in the local telephone directory. Your local Citizens' Advice Bureau may also be able to help answer any questions (the number is also in the telephone directory).

Help from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme

You may be eligible to claim the cost of reasonable funeral expenses from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS). This will be paid to the person paying for the funeral, even if they are not eligible to claim compensation under the terms of the Scheme. Account will be taken of your or your loved one's religious and cultural backgrounds. You should keep receipts for all funeral expenses to include with your claim.

Further details on the Scheme can be found at section 6.3. Victim Support Scotland may be able to assist you with your CICS claim. They can be contacted on 0845 30 30 900.

Announcing the Death

You may wish to put an announcement about the death in the national or local newspapers, giving details of the funeral. The newspaper will advise you of the arrangements or you can ask your funeral director to arrange things. For security reasons, you may decide not to include your address.

Many people use a funeral director to help them consider options, organise the funeral and manage the paperwork. You will find the names of local funeral directors in your local telephone directory.

The Funeral Standards Council (029 2038 2046), the National Association of Funeral Directors (0121 711 1343) or The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (0845 230 6777) can provide details of funeral directors who comply with quality codes of practice. All of these organisations cover the whole of the UK.