Page last updated at 10:51 GMT, Thursday, 17 December 2009
Anatomy of a crash

Anji Archer
Anji vividly recalls the moment officers broke the news of Shaun's death

In the third of four articles looking at the anatomy of a fatal road crash, Adrian Brown finds out how police prepared to break the news of Shaun Henderson's sudden death to his partner, Anji.

Family Liaison Officer Pc Felicity Moody reached the scene an hour after the crash. It was her job to find Shaun's next of kin and break the news to them. This is a delicate and difficult task and not just a case of knocking on someone's door.

"I've been punched and thrown up on. Others have fainted on me, it's not uncommon to have a severe reaction to our arrival," she says.

This is an account of a single fatal road crash. Each chapter follows a stage of the incident.

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Before delivering what's known as the "agony message" Felicity will routinely research the background of the road victim.

"We need to know who's likely to open the door before we actually knock," she explains. "None of us like doing it, so we prepare ourselves as best we can for how someone might react."

After getting briefed on the crash and doing her research, she and a colleague made their way to Anji and Shaun's home.

Meanwhile at Stevenage police station, Vicki Richards was in the intoxicator room getting ready to conduct an "evidential" breath test on the van driver. As she did so, another officer put his head round the door and indicated that Shaun had died.

The test taken at the roadside by Pc Richards was a preliminary breath test. If positive, the suspect will be arrested and taken to a police station as was the case here.
At the station, the suspect is required to provide two specimens of breath using an approved evidential breath testing machine. This test is crucial. If one of the specimens is lower than 50 micrograms of alcohol in 100ml of breath, the suspect may ask for a blood sample to be taken.
Taking a blood sample requires the presence of a medical officer, a potentially lengthy process. During the wait, the body is metabolising the alcohol, so the "evidence" is gradually disappearing. In this case, both readings were 54 micrograms, enough to charge the driver

His death changed what was already a very serious incident into a fatal collision investigation, equivalent in many ways to a murder investigation.

Evidence that can stand up in court was now needed, along with a thorough examination of where the crash occurred if charges were to be brought.

Knowing this, Pc Richards called in another police office to witness the "evidential" breath test.

"I wanted to ensure that the evidence I collected was the best and of the highest quality as it will be tested in court," she explains.

The test read 54 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml of breath, considerably over the prescribed limit of 35 micrograms per 100ml of breath. Three minutes later a second test produced an identical reading.


Some two hours after the 999 call to report Shaun's crash, Anji heard a knock on her door.

"I saw two female police officers at the door," Anji recounts. "They didn't have to say anything. I knew something was wrong. They asked if the owner of a Vespa lived here. I said yes, and said Shaun's name.

Picture of Shaun Henderson
Shaun was a talented artist

"They asked if they could come in and actually I didn't allow them in at first, I just screamed, I said, 'no, I want you to tell me now'".

At that point it was clear Anji was going into shock.

Soon after, Anji recalls, the police came in. "They were very careful and gentle. They said Shaun had been in an accident and that he had died. I just went hysterical.

"I just remember cowering in the corner. I didn't want to be touched or anyone near me because I wanted to be near him."

Because Shaun didn't have any identification on him, the police needed Anji to go and identify him.

"Anji very bravely came to the hospital with her dad," Pc Moody says. This is never easy, but she and her colleagues try to comfort bereaved relatives by explaining what they can expect at the hospital.

They might, for example, need to forewarn about certain serious injuries. Pc Moody also says she tries to arrange for a hand of the victim to be visible on top of the sheet covering the body in case a relative wants to hold it.

Wanting to be invisible

Anji's recollections of these moments are still immensely upsetting. Her voice falters as she recalls the visit.

"I remember getting to the hospital and wishing that none of it was real. It felt very surreal. Very very sterile, very very cold. I also remember suddenly getting very practical and thinking about all the people that ought to be told. I was suddenly very concerned for them."

Walking down the hospital corridors was unnerving. "People were looking at me. I wanted to be invisible.

Anji Archer
The visit to hospital was distressing

"I walked into the room and saw Shaun lying there. All his clothes were in a bag. He just had a sheet over him. I remember thinking, 'he's still warm, he can't be dead, he must just be asleep'. I remember screaming and just saying to him 'you said you were going to stay with me for ever'. And that was it.

"I remember looking at his injuries and thinking what must he have gone through. Was he in pain? Because I couldn't bear that. The nurse was very caring and said he wouldn't have felt anything. It was obviously very quick."

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