The following is a personal account written by PC Sam Sparkes from Bedfordshire Police.
PC Sparkes has been a police officer for 20 years. She has spent 10 years as a traffic officer, of which eight years have also been spent as a family liaison officer.
She is also the family liaison officer coordinator for the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Hertfordshire Roads Policing Unit.
‘I’ve been cried on. I’ve been hugged. And I’ve had things thrown at me.
There is no standard way that someone reacts when you tell them their loved one has died.
My heart will be pounding as I go to knock on the door.
I know that I’m going to change a family’s life forever.
The words that I use are important – they will remember that moment for the rest of their lives.
I never say someone has been fatally injured – people will cling on to the word injured.
Instead I will say dead, died, or killed.
Some people will have a lot of questions. It can be hard for them to comprehend that that their mum, child, girlfriend, husband, is gone. Some people won’t believe it until they’ve seen the body.
I’m always very honest. I have to be, as information will come out in the inquest anyway.
I tell people that they can ask me anything they like, but they need to be prepared to hear the answer, you can never ‘un-hear’ it. I will never lie about how a body looks.
Incident involving young people are particularly tough; it’s unnatural for parents to have to bury their children.
A particularly difficult job was a road traffic collision around three years ago in which three teenagers were killed and one was left with life-changing brain injuries. The driver was due to turn 18 just two weeks after the accident. The teenage driver had the same birthday as my son, which really hit home with me.
Myself and another family liaison officer (FLO) supported all four families as well as providing support to people at their college.
After the inquest I got a text from his mum saying that there was no way she would have got through it without me. That meant the world to me.
It’s always a special feeling when a family says thank you.
They’re going through the most devastating time of their lives, and when they still find the time to thank me, I know I’ve done a good job.
The hardest job was telling the wife of PC Jon Henry, who was killed on duty on 11 June 2007, that he had died.
I was the only FLO on duty when the call came through.
I went to get his wife, Mary, from her place of work and had to tell her that he had been stabbed to death, without her having chance to say goodbye.
It felt like it took hours, but in reality it was probably only seconds.
You don’t expect to wave your loved one off to work, only for them never to return. That’s why I never leave my house on an argument, and I never go to bed on an argument. I always tell my loved ones that I love them when I say goodbye, just in case.
In the aftermath of Jon’s death, I was one number of FLOs assigned to his family. I strongly believe that FLOs are absolutely vital for helping people to cope with such tragic incidents.
My cousin was killed in a car crash before the FLO role existed.
What my family went through was horrendous, and I don’t want any family to go through what we had to, that’s why I’m a FLO.
That’s why I’m passionate about the role of the FLO, and that’s why I do this job, despite how hard it is’.