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A helping hand at a time of tragedy

PUBLISHED: 08:54 31 October 2008 | UPDATED: 21:39 05 July 2010

BEHIND every high-profile police investigation, family liaison officers (FLOs) play a crucial role.

With 43 FLOs working for Suffolk Constabulary - with ten dedicated to the roads policing unit and 33 based at headquarters for serious cases and murders - it is a job that few of us would envy, as the officers are often the first point of contact with grief-stricken families who have to come to terms with the death of loved ones.

BEHIND every high-profile police investigation, family liaison officers (FLOs) play a crucial role.

With 43 FLOs working for Suffolk Constabulary - with ten dedicated to the roads policing unit and 33 based at headquarters for serious cases and murders - it is a job that few of us would envy, as the officers are often the first point of contact with grief-stricken families who have to come to terms with the death of loved ones.

These officers can be deployed across the whole county to deal with situations, and their role is at the centre of most major inquiries.

Speaking exclusively to The Journal this week, as part of our Save A Life campaign, family liaison officer PC Ian Hicks - who is based at the Halesworth Roads Policing Unit - has first-hand experience of this trauma.

“My main role starts when there is a fatal incident and often begins with me giving the death message to the family,” he told The Journal. “I see them through the whole process and as such am the conduit between the senior investigation police team and the family.”

Dealing with “absolutely everything” as he helps the family through their trauma, and acts as a link between the inquiry and gathering information on the victim.

With this information centring on the deceased, some of the evidence family liaison officers will look to find includes their lifestyle, friends, hobbies and if they had any problems or concerns.

“When the families are first told the dreaded news it is quite a shock to them,” PC Hicks said. “For the first two or three days they are absolutely paralysed with grief.”

Initially PC Hicks takes the family to hospital to see their loved one, to identify the body and also explains about post mortems.

“I have been a police officer for 25 years, a traffic officer for 18 year and FLO for four years,” PC Hicks said.

During this time, he has seen lots of tragedies. “As a family liaison officer I've dealt with around 15 incidents, but as a traffic officer there has been a lot more fatalism” he said.

“But the feedback we receive is always positive. “When you meet someone at the lowest time in their life and you can help them through their grief emotionally, it's one of the most rewarding things you can do.

“It's just nice to feel you can get people through at this particularly traumatic time.”

Explaining to the families about media intrusion, inquests, court cases, funerals and legal issues are all part of this role. And having to deal himself with road crashes and then liaising with loved ones after the families loss, PC Hicks is backing the Save A Life campaign.

“It is very difficult as I see it from both sides, but we are very busy and are not here to pick on drivers, we need to get the message across that when people speed, are using a mobile phone or are not wearing seatbelts they don't think about the consequences,” he said.

“People need to be aware we are here to help and we need to educate them and the young people.”

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