A photo of a British police car parked on the street.

The dead and the living

Do Police ID the dead using smartphone images

We need to trust The Police. Sooner or later you or I will need to call 999. When the emergency happens we want to believe The Police will engage with us, will help make the crisis manageable.

Emergencies are difficult. For everyone. Professional and non-professional. Everyone will be stressed, or distressed, emotional tension near to snapping.

Death of a family member is always traumatic. Even when expected. When not expected, the emotional chaos and difficulty of understanding, is acute.

Can you imagine being woken up at 5am, told by a Police Officer that your adult son is dead, then being asked to identify the body using a mobile phone image?

The senior Police Officer needed – so said the junior Police Officer – to be closing the case.

The case, you should know, being no more than a few hours open.

When I heard this account, I wondered: could it really be possible that the brutalisation of police procedure had reached such a level of insensitivity?

Could the distortions caused by digital communications and social media interactions, have removed the parameters of personal engagement so far that a Police Officer was blithely ignorant of how appalling this proposition was?

Because of this, I did a quick search of the World Wide Web – the encyclopaedia of world knowledge – finding a genuinely informed and informative document published by The Police, indeed, by The Police barely a few miles from my office in Dunstable. And equally near to where this incident happened.

The National Policing Improvement Agency has an address at Wyboston Lakes in Bedfordshire. This being the case, I cannot help but ask what excuses could Bedfordshire Police have – of all Police Constabularies – for conducting themselves with such inexcusable lack of simple humanity?

The document I found is one of several that relate to Police Family Liaison Officers. Although I’m not certain, I think that Bedfordshire Police didn’t think that this death merited a specialist liaison officer – yet another failure in a saga of failures.

The guidance says at one point: “Sensitive and responsive management of viewing can be critical to the family grieving process and could be of long term benefit”. Spot on, surely.

Before this, it also says: “Families must be treated appropriately and professionally, with respect and consideration for their needs”. Again, spot on.

However, it would seem we’ve reached a new low as between the virtuous aims of those who educate and guide Bedfordshire Police, and those who, on the ground, perform day to day contact with the real world.

There is no effective legal remedy for such a striking lapse in conduct by Bedfordshire Police. Human Rights? Doubtful. PCC. Who is Kathryn Holloway? Civil Courts? Not worth it, almost certainly. Complaint? Maybe.

Who is accountable? Who can we trust?