As we continue to explore some of the key roles at Counter Terrorism Policing for #JusticeTogether week, our focus turns to how we support those at the centre of a terrorist incident.
In the aftermath of an attack, Family Liaison Officers play a vital role both here in the UK, but also abroad if an incident has happened further afield.
Nicola* is currently one of our Family Liaison Co-ordinators, and has also worked extensively as a Family Liaison Officer for a range of terrorist incidents.
How long have you worked in policing?
I’ve been a police officer for almost 30 years, and spent 23 of those as a detective. Throughout my career I’ve worked in all sorts of different areas of policing, including surveillance, child protection, and murder investigations teams. I joined Counter Terrorism Policing six years ago.
What is the role of a Family Liaison Officer in the world of counter terrorism?
We support families who have a loved that has been killed or serious injured following a terror attack in the UK or overseas. After an attack, we support the Senior Investigating Officer’s (SIO) strategy, so that the victims and their families are at the heart of our investigation, and families are as aware and connected as possible to the work we do. We will spend many hours with families trying to answer their difficult questions, and sadly delivering information no-one wants to hear. We also guide them through the identification and repatriation process, and support them through any criminal or coronial proceedings.
What’s different about the role when it comes to a terrorist incident compared to other police incidents?
There is quite a big difference, especially if you’re involved in something that has taken place overseas. When that happens, there is a lot of navigating different systems and processes, working with government departments here and abroad to ensure that things happen to UK standards.
Timescales can also be a lot more prolonged, so it’s about working with families to ensure they know what to expect and when. Another thing we have to manage is press interest, which can be significant depending on what has happened, we have the task of maintaining the confidence of a family, as well as the integrity of an investigation.
What happens after an incident?
The first couple of weeks is extremely intense and the pace is relentless, it’s a 24/7 operation to deploy a family liaison response.
In the case of an overseas attack, once it’s established how many British Nationals are involved, FLOs in the country where the incident has happened will be deployed. Then we’ll mirror that in the UK, getting FLOs to next of kin and families here to explain what’s happened and gather information that might help with identification.
It’s then a case of taking direction from the SIO and simply being there to support the family, this could be taking them to the mortuary, or watching the flight land, as it brings their loved one home. We will spend hours with families, which unfortunately does involve asking difficult questions, and delivering information no-one wants to hear.
Is it a hard job?
It really is. At the end of the day, we’re part of the worst moments of people’s lives; telling a parent their child has been caught up in an explosion or a husband that their wife has been stabbed to death – how do you find the words for that? Somehow we do, but seeing the reaction of a family in a mortuary, will never be easy. Every case leaves a mark, I have felt this personally, and I see it in my colleagues.
You must need certain strengths and skills to do this job…
You need the ability to choose your words carefully, to describe horrifying things in a way that can be understood. Giving families enough information to make an informed decision is absolutely vital and knowing when to speak, or stay quiet, is also very important.
Have you got any jobs that you are particularly proud of?
All of them. To be able to bring some sort of order to a family when they have been absolutely turned upside down, delivering the most painful of messages, the words they never want to hear, but still be thanked for standing by them is beyond humbling.
How do you let go at the end of a job? It must be hard to draw a line?
It can be tough, families often want to keep in touch because you’ve been such a major part of their lives for so long. Stepping away following an inquest or a trial can feel tricky, but we can only take people so far, we tend to use a phased approach when the time comes.
Why is the role so important?
I can’t imagine any family having to navigate their way through the aftermath of a terrorist attack without someone stood by their side. An FLO gives a solid, dependable link to the investigation, we have absolutely world-class people doing this job in Counter Terrorism Policing and I have seen first-hand what difference they make to families.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the FLO.