“Writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events has been found to result in improvements in mental health” My GP explained at the end of my 15 minute consultation with her.
“Not really my thing but I’ll give it a go” I duly replied, never expecting that I would actually start a blog let alone write about traumatic experiences. I only made the appointment with my doctor as I felt I needed a little bit more time off work following the discovery of my fathers decomposing body. My plan was to get the time off, let the dust the settle and get back into running then return to work feeling fresh.
Last week – rather nervously I might add – I decided to follow through with the idea of writing and posted a blog about a memorable day I had during my operational tour of Afghanistan during my military career. You can read that by clicking HERE.
This week I want to share with you something that doesn’t get talked about a lot outside of Police circles. What it feels like to attend a fatality and the strain this can put on the emergency services. I must stress that these are my own thoughts, opinions and experiences.
I am currently serving in a large UK City. I have served as a Police Officer for a few years now and I have attended quite a number of fatalities ranging from suicides to sudden deaths . I learnt quickly during my probation to brush these off as part of the job.
Earlier this year on a mid-week late shift, we had just finished booking a young man into the drunk and disorderly inn for the night. He wasn’t best pleased with the basic accommodation and he left quite a scathing review of the check in procedure by attempting to spit at the lovely receptionist (Custody Sergeant).
No sooner had we cleared custody the tinny voice of the control room operator came through our radios. “Any units available to attend ****** railway station, reports of a female walking towards the railway line”. I answered the call and gave our approximate ETA. I asked for a description and if she was known to the informant. The control room came back with “She was unknown by the informant but he describes her as a white female, shoulder length black hair, crying and wearing what looked to be a pink dressing gown and white slippers.” I asked if this helpful informant was still with her to which the control room confirmed “No, informant states he was in a taxi and it didn’t stop”…..Excellent.
Just as I pressed the talk button on my radio to transmit again the control cut me off and urgently requested further units as a train driver had just reported hitting someone at speed with his train. Yes you guessed it, it was in the same location that we were attending on blues. I shouted up “Confirm you said this female has now been struck by a train?” It was confirmed. Ambulance were also now deployed.
We arrived five minutes later and had the pleasure of being the lucky unit first on scene. It was a small two platform station in the suburbs of the city, but the line was one of the main railway lines into the city center. We both dived out of the car. Acting on instinct my crew-partner grabbed the first aid pack we had in the boot. We ran up the flight of steps that lead to the city bound platform. It was about 2230hrs at this stage and thankfully there didn’t appear to be any members of the public about, so we didn’t have that to contend with. I reached the platform and looked down the track. About 500 meters away from the station I could see a stationary train. I couldn’t see anyone around. As I walked up the platform I noticed an iPhone 5 on the ground with its screen smashed up. I fished out an evidence bag and popped it in there. Then I seen it. Lying on the track not far from the bench I found the “Point of impact”.
When I wrote my statement later that night I described the body as “Badly disrupted with injuries consistent of being struck by a train at high speed”. The reality is slightly more gory. All I could see was a naked female torso, no arms, no legs and a head that looked like a football with no air in it. The upper section of the skull was gone.
By this time another unit arrived and were walking down the opposite platform. One of them shouted over that he had just found a leg on the platform. I didn’t care about a scene log at this stage, so I updated control and confirmed no more trains were due through the station. I then hopped down onto the line and began walking towards the train. My priority now was the driver. As I walked down the line I discovered more body matter. Pieces of gooey stringy red stuff that I think might of been pieces of brain. I also found an arm with no hand.
I took a first account from the driver that basically said that it appeared this female acted alone with no third party involvement. As he passed through the station, without stopping, he said “It looked like she was diving into a swimming pool and she jumped infront of the train, I couldn’t stop”. He then broke down. The rest of that incident unfolded pretty smoothly and without any more note. It transpired this female was a high risk missing person who had self harmed in the past.
Over the next few months following this I attended three more railway suicides and a fatal RTC. I carried on working as I always had, positive these events had not affected me- I mean I had been to Afghanistan and came out of that fine. I can get through this.
It wasn’t until finding my fathers body last month I finally said to myself “Ok, I need a little break”
I am gaining confidence in sharing and no longer feel ashamed about feeling mentally drained. All I will say is one in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some stage. So that means that, right now, one of your friends, colleagues or loved ones is going through it. It’s everyone’s responsibility to start that conversation with someone they are worried about. Then, most of the time it’s just listening. Trust me, you can make a big difference by just reading or listening to someone who is struggling.
If in writing this helps just one person who experienced something similar, educates just one member of the public or journalist who sees police as nothing more than unprofessional, power hungry bullies then it will have been a worthwhile contribution.
Thanks for reading.