This is the first in a short series of Officer profiles within the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Too often the reality of what one has to deal with is lost beyond the headlines.
They will follow the format of a question and a factual but comprehensive & dramatised answer.
What was the worst crime scene you ever came across?
A call came up on the radio. Welfare Check, possible sudden death. On the computer, you could see it was classified as a “Sudden Death” which is the term we used to describe any person found dead with no apparent signs of misdeeds by another.
It was the second time I’d had a “sudden” in my career. The first was an old lady who passed away in her armchair. She was 93. I’d expected something like this. A quiet and dignified moment.
When I arrived at the scene, I had already been authorised to force entry into the property and did so when I got no answer. When the door was forced open the smell was immediate. Rancid and coppery.
Decay and sharp molds were rank. I was nearly physically sick. Shielding my mouth I made my way into the property and looked around.
The house was untidy but orderly. There was a dog barking madly from behind a closed door. I could see the plasma and decaying flesh spilling between the floorboards and into an adjacent property. The floorboards were rotten through with this material and soft under foot.
Behind the door was a scene I could never have imagined I’d encountered. A small dog, coated head to tail in filth and blood was barking maniacally to get from the room as upon the bed lay a young man who had been eaten from ankle to hip by the dog. Stripped entirely of his flesh all the way up.
The place was caked in dog shit and shredded paper and chewed furniture. What I wouldn’t find out until later was why there were paper towels jammed in the door and towels everywhere.
The deceased had suffered an apparent faint and had fallen, with a simple fall to the ground he struck his head off the corner of a table cabinet and was killed instantly. A cruel twist of fate.
This man’s roommate was a heavy drug user who also had severe mental health problems and developmental difficulties. He had apparently lifted the man up and put him to bed. He carried on living in the house for two more days until the smell became too much.
He then put the dog in the room and closed the door, stuffing towels around the edges. Then he moved out, never to return. Leaving the dog to consume its owner as it tried to survive. The dog was subsequently destroyed.
I’ve never seen anything like it since and I hope not to. As I understand it the only charges that were brought against the mentally unwell man were dropped on account of his disability.
And there we have it. Another story that nobody could ever know about. I often wonder if it’s more appropriate to simply tell the truth about what happens.
Newspapers are forbidden or simply unable to print the true nature of a crime or a person’s injuries. Often words like incident, serious or critical will be used. My favourite is when a death is described as “not suspicious” when dealing with a sudden death.
It can be immediately apparent as to why someone is dead. Lyrica, for instance, is a drug which causes the Central Nervous System to shut down. When someone overdoses and is unable to breathe they may begin to struggle as their body desperately fights for life.
They start to churn their stomach bile up and often the bodies are found with a tarry substance spilt over their face from the bile in their stomachs, such is the ferocity of the bodies desire to breathe.
Police Officers are among the few who are forced to encounter such things every single day. When you speak to a police officer about your neighbor who’s too loud they may have just come from a scene involving a dead child, in graphic circumstances.
Despite this, they thunder through with a strict degree of professionalism. You’ll never really know when something’s bothering them.
The problem is, all too often we don’t ever talk about our mental health problems. The fear an officer has in asking for help from OHU is that they almost immediately will have their personal firearm seized.
This is a grotesque thing to do to a PSNI officer. We feel so incredibly exposed and unsafe without this piece of equipment. It can cause serious mental anguish when an officer is disarmed and it should only be done where an officer is shown to have used, or to have misused their firearm.
So we have to bottle it up. In fact, almost every officer has to bottle it up. Right now, Metropolitan Police officers are probably bottling up their feelings about the out of control knife crime & the recent murder and injury of their colleagues because they’ll be taken off the streets.
We just have to keep going. It’s a price we pay, sometimes not willingly. Never has the public been more aware of the severe strain on policing, police resource and the mental wellbeing of officers.
Despite this, nobody has actually done anything about it. We can find £35m to police memorialised sectarian fighting but we can’t toss a few more million towards kit & OHU?
Something has to give. Hopefully, it won’t be the officers. When we’re gone, you’ll realise what the world has become.