A personal account by Tracey Cusick

Tracey's fiance, Peter, was killed when a lorry crashed into his car. Peter was parked on the hard shoulder, awaiting recovery.

The following is an account written by Tracey. She talks of the 'hell' she went through and how it was added to by inappropriate treatment by the police. Tracey now works with Brake helping police to liaise with families in an empathetic and appropriate manner.

"Seven years ago, I was living in Manchester with Peter Jones my fiancé, and my 10 year old son Charlie. Peter had just left the Army after serving more than 10 years in the artillery regiment. He had applied to join Lancashire Police and was waiting for a date for interview. In the meantime he had taken up a part-time taxi-driving job to help with the mortgage payments. On the evening of 28th March 1998, he kissed me and Charlie goodbye and set off for a night shift.

I went to bed and was woken up at about 8 a.m. by a knock on the front door. I went downstairs and opened it to find two police officers who were clearly nervous. I noticed their attire - one officer was not wearing a tie and neither was wearing their hat. One of them said, "Your partner Peter Jones has been involved in an accident on the motorway. Do you recognise these?" He held up a plastic bag with a watch, a ballpoint pen, an earring, and a wallet and I recognised them as belonging to Peter. There was blood in the bag and on the items.

One officer remained in the porch, swinging the door, while I went with the other officer into the lounge. He said that he did not know any more details. They handed me a piece of paper with a handwritten telephone number on it and told me I should ring it for more information.

By this stage, Charlie was sitting on top of the stairs, sobbing, obviously having heard what the officers had said to me. I signed for Peter's property and the officers left the house. The whole episode took about five minutes.

I rang the number they had given me, but it was incorrect and got me through to an elderly lady who had no idea what I was talking about. Desperate for news, I rang my local force but they had no record of an accident, and said that the police officers should return to my home within the hour. When that didn't happen, I rang my family. They started to arrive at my home offering support and asking what had happened, but I couldn't tell them anything.

I rang my local police force back, and they suggested I try calling neighbouring police forces. Eventually I found a helpful Inspector from another police force's motorway unit who said that his force had not had any fatalities on the motorway that evening. I asked what a fatality was and he explained, he said he would make enquiries and get back to me. The time was now 11.30am. The Inspector phoned back about twenty minutes later and told me which police force to ring, giving me their phone number.

I got in touch with that force who told me that the officer dealing with the incident had gone off duty. The officer I spoke to put his hand over the receiver and said to a colleague, "That fatal last night - was he called Peter Jones?" I could hear it all! I still clung to the fact that Peter was not dead and would be lying in a hospital with broken bones, and able to come back to me and Charlie soon. The officer said that he needed to make further enquiries and would call me back.

The next telephone call I received was from a coroner's officer, who asked me to meet him at the mortuary. I was stunned and asked, "Is Peter dead then?" This was the first I knew that Peter had lost his life.

I travelled to the hospital with my brother, who drove, as by this stage I was in no state to get behind the wheel of a car. I met the coroner's officer, who explained a little more about the crash, saying that Peter had broken down on the hard shoulder of the M62. Having telephoned for assistance, he was advised to remain in the passenger seat of the car. It was 2am. Within a short space of time a HGV driver had fallen asleep and ploughed into Peter's car shunting him across three lanes of the carriageway and into the central reservation barrier and ended up on top of the car. I was so angry.

I asked if Peter was ok to view, I knew I had to identify him. The coroner's officer said he was a 'bit of a mess', but ok. The sight that met me was absolutely horrific. Peter had suffered terrible injuries and had a huge hole in the side of his head. His eyes were half open, and as I held his hand I realised it was badly twisted, which made it very difficult to hold. I kissed him and tried to straighten his blood soaked hair.

I was ushered out of the room to fill in some forms, then I was handed a hospital bin liner stamped with 'Hospital Property' on it. Inside this bag were Peter's clothes, including his blood soaked Wigan Rugby shirt, his treasured possession. This was my lifeline. I slept with the rugby shirt under my pillow for about three months.

Despite the pain, hurt, anger and upset at least now I knew the truth; at least now I could relay what had happened to my family and Peter's family.

I tried to make funeral arrangements on the Monday, only to be told I couldn't as I was not officially next of kin, so I had to ask Peter's Dad to help me. This was difficult as Peter had fallen out with his family a few weeks before his death. But they had lost their only son so I had to be caring to their needs too.

The coroner's officer asked if I would like to know the outcome of the post mortem and I said yes. He rang me on the Monday and read out a list of injuries, like reading out a shopping list. I asked if Peter would have suffered and he said "No it would have been like flicking a light switch". For months afterwards every time I flicked a light switched I visualised Peter dying.

When I got home from the Funeral Directors the local press were camped on my doorstep, wanting quotes from me and any member of my family. They were outside the house, on and off, for two days, and rang my number until I agreed to talk to them. After the funeral, I wanted answers about the crash and why the driver had killed Peter. Who was he? How old was he? Where was he from? When I found out which company he drove for, I found this very tough as they had a depot facing Charlie's school. Was I likely to see him every day? I looked at drivers from the company wondering which one had killed Peter. I was told he was from Lincolnshire.

The police officer dealing with the crash attended my home to return a few of Peter's possessions including his taxi badge and a cheque from the coroners office for the cash he had on him the night he died. They told me that they couldn't tell me anything about the crash, and that the coroner's officer should not have told me the driver had fallen asleep as that had yet to be established. They asked to see Peter's driving licence, which I found strange, and his insurance certificate. Why? Peter was dead.

Although the officer gave me his number in case I had any further questions I never managed to get to speak to him. I tried ringing a few times but he didn't return my calls. Time passed and by now I was getting angry with the police and driver. The police did ring me back on one occasion to say that they hadn't managed to interview the driver as he had deemed himself unfit to be interviewed - he sent sick notes via his solicitor. This became too much for me. I started drinking, bottle after bottle of vodka. I felt so alone and desolate that on two occasions I tried to take my own life. Charlie found me slumped on the floor one day and said "I just want my old mummy back". He became withdrawn, a bully at school and put his hand through a window at home. I had to try and get a hold on my life for Charlie's sake. No offer of support was offered to me from anywhere. So I visited my GP and he recommended Cruse counselling. This was instead of trying anti-depressants. I was sceptical about counselling as I didn't want someone calling at my home telling me to pull myself together and that life goes on.

After six months, the driver was eventually interviewed and said he couldn't remember anything about the crash. He was charged with causing death by dangerous driving. I was not notified of the date of the first court case and had to ring the Police to find out when it was and where the court was. This was the first time I was to meet the driver. He pleaded not guilty. An Inspector from the force dealing with the crash told me that they had overwhelming expert witness evidence and that he was almost certain that the driver would be found guilty. I attended the next hearing at the same court, then it was transferred to another Crown Court in September 1999, 18 months after the crash. No one told me that I would be sitting with the driver's family - at one stage his wife sat next to me. This situation was not acceptable; I was so distraught and angry. I felt like Peter's death was in vain as he was only mentioned once at the beginning of the 3-day trial. The driver was found not guilty of causing death by dangerous driving.

He was found guilty of the lesser charge of driving without due care and attention, for which he received £1000 fine and a ban from the roads for 12 months. I was absolutely devastated at the verdict. I was angry at the Police for misleading me, at the driver for getting off lightly and at the judicial system.

I had to now go home and explain to Charlie what had happened. Before I left for court I had promised him that we would get some justice after all this time. The news upset Charlie and from that day he withdrew more and more. He had nightmares, and the children at school teased him about his daddy dying, saying that various parts of his body were found rolling down the motorway, and that his Daddy had caused the crash. It was tearing me apart to watch him suffer; and I sought help for Charlie through my GP. I also went to school and talked to the teachers, who offered to help me and Charlie. Things got a little easier for Charlie at school, but it hurt him.

Life had to go on for both of us. I was left a single parent, with a huge mortgage and I was only on a part-time salary. Peter had no life insurance; his theory on life was if he could get through two tours of duty in Northern Ireland, he didn't need any life cover! I sought legal advice, and was informed I had good chance of a civil case against the haulage operators for a dependency claim. This was successful and I was awarded huge damages. No amount of money will ever bring Peter back, but if it helps Charlie's future then it makes a difference.

Peter died seven years ago and I still feel bitter about the way in which I was told. I deserved a duty of care and support, which any other member of the public deserves and expects from the police. Ironically enough, if Peter had been murdered I would have been swamped with offers of help and support.

I decided not to complain in writing to the police forces involved, as I wanted closure and to be able to get on with my grieving and with my life. I had to move forward. I thought that an official complaint could take months to be resolved and be passed from person to person with the forces and this would have lessened my faith even more in the police. I didn't want Peter's death to be another road death statistic so I joined Brake, the road safety charity, and I actively campaign for safer roads. I am also a qualified Cruse Bereavement Counsellor. I didn't want to be bitter with the police for the rest of my life and I provide an input on many of Brake's police family liaison officer training courses to help them improve their service to other families. Working alongside the police and with them helps me channel my energy into giving something back, and I do this in Peter's memory.

I will never get over Peter's death, but I have learned to live with it. I still get upset on anniversaries - I am only human. I have moved on with my life now, I have a new partner and child. This proves that anyone can get through an ordeal like this if they are determined to do so."

Author: Tracey Cusick, 2005

Tags: road crash victim death