The South Yorkshire Police officers with the heartbreaking job of informing loved ones of crash deaths
"You know that what you are about to tell them will change their lives forever."
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As Sheffield families prepare to come to remember those who have been killed in car crashes, a South Yorkshire Police officer has revealed the heartbreaking reality for those tasked with breaking the news of a fatal collision.
During the course of 2022, 35 people lost their lives and a further 786 were seriously injured in crashes on South Yorkshire's roads. Those who have lost their lives in South Yorkshire crashes are set to be honoured in a dedicated remembrance service will take place at the Upper Chapel on Norfolk Street in Sheffield.
The service will form part of World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, which takes place every year, on the third Sunday in November.
South Yorkshire Police Family Liaison Co-ordinator Sergeant Andy Whittaker trains and supports the team of around 27 specialist officers who work with families impacted by fatal collisions. Family Liaison Officers (FLO) inform families when there has been a road death and support them through to the conclusion of the inquest or criminal proceedings. They also signpost bereaved families to additional support services like Sheffield-based charity Hope and national charity Brake. Commenting on the task of breaking the news of a fatal collision, Sgt Whittaker said: "When you park up outside someone’s house and you’re walking up to their front door, you know that what you are about to tell them will change their lives forever.
"That from that point onwards, there will always be a spare seat at the Christmas table, they will never get to walk their daughter down the aisle, they will never get to see their kids grow up. "How do you tell someone that news? What do you say? Until they answer the door, you never really do know what you’re going to say." The FLO is the single point of police contact with a family, guiding them through the Coronial and any criminal proceedings, advising on issues like social and local media as well as providing updates on any collision investigation work.
"We stay with the family until the end of any formal proceedings, which could be one year, it could be four years," added Sgt Whittaker. "It is a hard job but the reason why we join the police, is because we have a desire to help people. Our FLOs are specially trained and there is a programme of welfare support to ensure that their well-being is also looked after. "What this role does remind you is that life is fragile and there are no guarantees. In a split second, your life can change forever. That’s where our team comes in, to be the ‘open door’ for that family. "We are just one part of a network of support services who are doing invaluable work, to help families through the worst days of their life."
A spokeswoman for South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership (SYSRP) added: "World Day of Remembrance shines a poignant light on those families whose lives have been changed forever as the result of a road traffic collision. "We must come together to not only pay our respects to those who have lost their lives, but to address what action we can all take to stop these tragedies from happening. "It is also vitally important that we acknowledge the work of our dedicated emergency services, support workers and charities who deal with the traumatic aftermath of road crashes on a daily basis."