In the 'bad old days' before Family Liaison Officers, it was not uncommon for families to have to ask for belongings to be returned, or to be given them without warning in a wholly inappropriate way, such as in a black bin liner. Brake has endless case studies of families receiving belongings in ways that have severely upset these families. This Brake briefing aims to help you return belongings sensitively and at the right time, and with the right levels of communication.
Should all belongings be returned?
This is a question for the family. They should be given a full inventory of what is in the possession of the police, so they can decide what they want or don't want. It may be that they don't want some belongings returned, such as damaged, bloody clothing that has been ripped or cut off someone who died. On the other hand, they may want absolutely everything that has been close to their loved one.
Should blood-stained clothing be cleaned?
The question whether or not blood-stained clothing should be cleaned is, again, one for the family. A family may want clothing cleaned. Or they may want it returned smelling of their loved one. Give the family as much information as you can about the condition of belongings to enable them to make informed decisions, and prevent nasty unnecessary shocks.
Have you definitely found all belongings and collected them together?
Brake has case studies of cars being sent to scrap yards or garages still with personal belongings in them, such as phones, coats, or even a boot full of perishable shopping. It is important to check that you have collected everything and that, if it includes anything perishable, that it is returned in a timely manner.
Who should I return belongings to?
Belongings should be returned to the next of kin. There can, however, be issues of ownership. For example, someone who died may have been carrying something that belonged to someone else, for example a young woman who dies has a boyfriend's ring on a chain round their neck as a keepsake. Be aware of issues like this. At times of great shock and stress ownership of such items can become critical issues that cause great upset, particularly if there were previous frictions, for example between a son's mother and their girlfriend. Again, the best policy is good levels of communication and sensible consideration at all times.
Advance warning of return of belongings
You should give advance warning of return of belongings by calling a family on the telephone and arranging a time. Belongings should be returned by you, in a meeting, preferably at the family's home. The return of belongings can be an upsetting time, so it is a good idea to carry out this meeting in the familiar and safe surroundings of someone's home.