Bereavement due to traumatic death

The Police Family Liaison Officer's role

Where the police investigate a death they have a positive duty to communicate with the bereaved family. Normally a Police Family Liaison Officer (FLO) has this role.
Police Family Liaison Officers are experienced police officers who have been specially trained to enable them to act as such when necessary' they acknowledge that they may “not be able to make things better but can at least not make things worse”.
The Family Liaison Officer is primarily an investigator whose task is to:
  • Gather material from the family in a manner which contributes to the investigation;
  • Inform, and facilitate care and support for, the family, who are themselves victims, in a sensitive and compassionate manner in accordance with the needs of the investigation;
  • Gain the confidence and trust of the family, thereby enhancing their contribution to the investigation
Many people we talked to spoke very highly about their FLOs. They said that officers had helped them sensitively and compassionately.
People said that FLOs provided information and support at every stage. Some escorted people to the mortuary, and some explained why a post-mortem was needed. They kept people up to date with the police investigation, introduced them to Victim Support and told them about other sources of support. If an inquest or court case was likely the liaison officer also prepared them for that. They also helped with practical matters, such as recovering relatives' belongings.
FLOs sometimes gave support even after their official role finished; they almost became family friends.
Some people spoke very highly of the FLO but particular incidents had upset them. For example, Ann was upset when she went into a shop and saw a Crime Stoppers Poster with a picture of her son. She thinks that the liaison officer should have warned her that the photographs she gave to them might be used for this purpose.
A few people said that they had had to wait too long to see a liaison officer or that the officer was never available, had been insensitive and unhelpful and had added to their distress. When a family member criticised the liaison officer it was usually because the officer seemed to be treating the incident as just a routine matter rather than the tragedy a death is for the bereaved.
After Dorothy’s son was killed in an explosion in a recycling plant they met their liaison officer at the hospital (see ‘Death due to an industrial explosion’). Dorothy found the officer’s behaviour off-hand and insensitive' she had added to her ‘agony’.  
Although FLOs offer support, their main role is to gather evidence and information from the family to help with the investigation. People are not always aware of this and so tensions arise.
Erykah felt that the liaison officers were, understandably, more concerned with solving her brother’s murder than with offering support. Alison also said that she felt that the liaison officers were there only to get information.

Last reviewed October 2011.

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