How Hillsborough tragedy inspired life dedicated to helping disaster victims

Richard Venables says he is still haunted by the horrors he witnessed during his career
Richard Venables says he is still haunted by the horrors he witnessed during his career
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A former police officer from South Yorkshire who spent his career helping families caught up in some of the world's worst tragedies is in the running for a national book award.

Richard Venables was driven by the Hillsborough disaster, which he watched unfold as a young cop, to dedicate his life to ensuring victims of global catastrophes were treated with the respect they deserve.

Richard was working as a police officer on the day of the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 people died

Richard was working as a police officer on the day of the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 people died

He assisted with the response to some of the darkest episodes in British history, from the 7/7 bombings to the Selby rail crash, and his expertise saw him called upon to help in Thailand in the aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

A Life in Death recounts the many years he spent helping identify victims of tragedies so their loved ones could begin the grieving process.

His account of the harrowing work taking place behind the scenes is a finalist in The People's Book Prize 2017/18, voted for by readers.

Voting is due to open online on Monday, May 15, and to run for a week before the winner is announced on Tuesday, May 23.

Richard was called on in the aftermath of the 7/7 London bombings (Peter Macdiarmid/PA)

Richard was called on in the aftermath of the 7/7 London bombings (Peter Macdiarmid/PA)

"I'm thrilled to reach the final and so grateful to everyone who voted for me in the last round," said the 59-year-old grandfather-of-11, who lives near Rawmarsh in Rotherham.

"Although the book award would come to me, it would be recognition for all those I've worked with and who dedicate their lives to doing this harrowing job in the most awful circumstances."

Richard was working at Hillsborough on the day of the fateful FA Cup tie in 1989, in which 96 Liverpool fans died, and although he doesn't believe he could have done anything differently he is still racked with guilt over what happened.

"I can remember the adrenaline surge, thinking I'm paid to protect life and property and I'm not able to do that," he said.

"I've carried that guilt since and I will carry it to my grave. In the early 90s, when I got involved in this line of work it became very cathartic for me. I felt I was atoning for that guilt."

Richard joined the fraud squad at South Yorkshire Police in 1993 and was given responsibility for disaster management. He left the force in 2002 to train senior managers involved in identifying victims of tragedies.

He is proud of what he has achieved, having worked with others to put in place strict procedures for recovering and examining the bodies of casualties, which he says 'always put the victims' families first'.

His work earned him the Queen’s Police Medal for distinguished police service in 2006, but he says the biggest reward is knowing that although he can't make things better for the families left behind he 'doesn't make them any worse'.

Richard would cry himself to sleep after work some nights and is still haunted by flashbacks of the horrors he witnessed.

Writing the book was a struggle but he describes it as a 'cathartic' experience which helped him process the suffering he witnessed over the course of an emotionally draining career.

* You can vote for A Life in Death by Richard Venables and Kris Hollington at www.peoplesbookprize.com.

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