FENLAND: Special feature on how police deal with sudden death incidents in the county

PUBLISHED: 12:47 20 February 2009 | UPDATED: 08:54 02 June 2010

SIMON HARDING - CAMBS POLICE

SIMON HARDING - CAMBS POLICE

LAST year, more than 1,200 sudden death incidents were reported to Cambridgeshire police s force control room. Every one had to be investigated, resulting in various conclusions, but the process by which a death is ultimately explained can be complex and

LAST year, more than 1,200 sudden death incidents were reported to Cambridgeshire police's force control room.

Every one had to be investigated, resulting in various conclusions, but the process by which a death is ultimately explained can be complex and demanding for those involved.

POLICE have been called to a flat and have found a man in his 20s dead with an apparent head injury.

The man had not been seen for a few days and concerned neighbours reported hearing noises inside the property.

The body is on a bed and in the initial stages of decomposition.

Officers at the scene are not happy with the circumstances so the scene is preserved, a written crime log started and the divisional detective inspector is contacted.

At this stage the death is unexplained and detectives must keep an open mind.

The coroner is contacted immediately, as a matter of course, and due to the circumstances and at the direction of the coroner, a senior pathologist is tasked to carry out a post mortem examination.

Only the coroner can authorise the moving of the body and any subsequent examination.

Detectives know the front door of the first floor flat was secure and only a window was partially open at the time the body was discovered.

This suggests there was no third party involvement but the head injury complicates the matter.

The sudden death is one of many that will be reported to police every week.

Dete Insp Simon Harding, who has dealt with numerous sudden deaths, said officers at the scene had to make a judgement-call based on the evidence before them.

He said: "You don't know how he has got this injury so we need to know more about how he has actually died.

"Until we know that, we have to keep the scene preserved because you don't know what the post mortem will conclude and it may be a criminal matter.

"Throughout all of this the family of the victim must be kept fully up to date on developments and offered support."

The post mortem result in this case was "inconclusive", which means the pathologist cannot be certain.

However, further toxicology tests, which took about six weeks, concluded he had died from a drugs overdose. The apparent wound on the body had actually been caused by decomposition.

Det Insp Harding said the case demonstrated how difficult dealing with a sudden death could be.

In some cases the cause of death may be obvious, for example, if the person has clearly been assaulted.

However, if the cause of death is less obvious the officer will refer up to more senior officers who will make a decision on how it will be treated.

Det Insp Harding said further specialist examinations and investigations may be required, as well as inquiries into the person' background.

For example, such investigations may be required if a body is found beneath a high window because the victim may have been pushed, jumped or fallen accidentally.

Det Insp Harding added: "If the first officer on the scene is even slightly unhappy with the circumstances of the death then he will refer upwards to a senior officer. A cordon may be put up around the scene to preserve it before further investigations are carried out."

If a crime is believed to have been committed, a Home Office-accredited pathologist will carry out a post mortem. A range of other experts, such as bones, firearms, or dental, may also attend the examination.

On some occasions, an apparently accidental death can become a police investigation, although according to Rachel Middleton, the county's senior coroner's officer, roughly nine out of 10 deaths that appear suspicious at first sight are actually non-suspicious.

In one case in Huntingdon, a man in his 60s was found at the bottom of a stairwell and nothing about the situation seemed suspicious. However, during the post mortem, it was discovered the man had a massive fracture to his skull.

The examination was stopped, police were called and a forensic pathologist called in to finish the post mortem.

The death did not result in any criminal charges being brought but a police inquiry was required.

Det Insp Harding added: "It is important to keep an open mind at the scene of any sudden death because, while the majority of circumstances are non-suspicious, there is always the potential that a criminal investigation may be required.

"Some times a death can look suspicious, but it takes time to carry out further tests and investigations to discover the cause of death.

"Either way, we, the coroner and other professionals have a duty to fully investigate every sudden death, not least for the sake of the deceased and their family.


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