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Lessons learnt from mental health homicide reviews

Published 12 May 2015

Mental health homicide

NHS England (London) recently asked Verita to provide a view of its work on independent homicide reviews. The result was me getting up and presenting this view to an audience of families affected by mental health homicides, the police and mental health trusts and commissioners. An expanded version of the presentation is here:  

http://www.londonscn.nhs.uk/meeting/reducing-mental-health-related-homicide-in-london/

In addressing the question on how best to support families after a homicide. I posed the question “Should mental health consider a family liaison role similar to that used by the police?” The comment generated a lot of interest on the day, and I wanted to flesh it out a little more.

To begin with I am not suggesting we fully replicate the Police Family Liaison Officer (FLO). A FLO is, first and foremost, a police officer. FLOs are allocated in the course of an ongoing police investigation and are part of the investigation team. FLOs are not there to offer the family emotional support or counselling:  their role is to guide them through the investigative process.  This poses a conflict of interest if a family member is a suspect in the homicide. 

Having said this, many families identify the FLO as an important and helpful person. The best FLOs seem to function with respect, compassion and a clarity that families appreciate.

It is clear in our work that even a relatively straight-forward homicide case in mental health can take more than two years from incident to the independent investigation being published.  For most, the process is much longer. This means services will be in contact with families for longer than the police, who are only involved with the criminal investigation.

Given these timescales, and the inevitable changes in personnel, it’s not surprising that relationships between trusts and families can become strained. The risk of a resulting breakdown in communication leaving families angry and distressed is very high. In our experience many trusts struggle to give families the information and support they need, and some ignore them altogether.

We suggest services consider developing their own family liaison role, rather than rely on the police. In this, services should be as focused on guiding families through the investigative process and keeping communication channels open.

And there’s much we can learn from how the police prepare FLOs.  If mental health services were to consider a similar role, there should be a similar level of training and support to those delivering it. 

So these are thoughts taken from discussions within the Verita team. We offer them for consideration and to begin the debate, and not the final word on the issue.

Are we way off beam? Is there some mileage in the idea?

We would be very interested in what you have to say.

If you would like to learn more about mental health homicide then please contact our Ed Marsden on 020 7494 5670 or [email protected].

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