I chanced upon a remark in my recent reading that struck me as so callous, so utterly devoid of empathy, that I stopped short. Who had made this remark? A Family Liaison Officer!
As is my wont, I immediately started researching the qualities needed to be a Family Liaison Officer, and the training involved. The first surprise was the apparently scant attention to training given back in the early 2000s when this particular officer was trained. Even in 2006 a mere three days initially, of ‘team building’ and general communication skills, followed by another four days to ensure that all participants were fully aware of the requirements of the ACPO (2003) Family Liaison Strategy Manual.
It is universally acknowledged that the Family Liaison Officer’s role is one of the most sensitive within the Police Force – you are dealing, on a very intimate daily basis with people who have found themselves in the maelstrom of traumatic events, generally involving the unexplained loss of someone very dear to them. They are not only grieving, but may be the subject of unwanted media intrusion or worse, media speculation that they may have played some part in the events. As a policeman it is your duty to report any suspicions you may have of family members – you are still an investigating officer – but you are also there as a professional hand holder, to explain police procedures, to keep the family informed, even to deal with such mundane tasks as helping to cancel credit cards where appropriate, to make the tea if necessary and to have an ever ready supply of Kleenex.
As a human being, you must surely have empathy for the loss the family have suffered particularly where there is no question of suspicion of any member of the family, and to reassure them that the Police are doing everything possible to resolve the situation. That some officers do a magnificent juggling act with these demands is exemplified here. I would have thought that the very last thing you would do is publicly decry the efforts of the Police and say that there were ‘fundamental errors’ in the way the case was approached, ‘witnesses not approached’, ‘insufficient searching done’ nor that your force appeared to ‘not have a clue’. What could be more callous than to announce to the family that their missing loved one ‘could still be up there‘ – referring to the area where they disappeared?
Can you imagine if, God forbid, your daughter had gone missing, never to be found again, being told by the one Policeman you had been encouraged to trust and lean on in your time of need, that his force was effectively incompetent, and that your daughter might have been found? It must be heartbreaking. Sadly, to this day, the parents of Ruth Wilson still don’t know what happened to their daughter. She has never been found. However, and curiously, they don’t seem to share the view of this family liaison officer that the force was remiss in their approach to the search.
’Most police forces didn’t treat cases like this seriously and people like us had to do our own publicity. Surrey police were one of the most positive forces. They came out that very night with sniffer dogs and helicopters with heat-seeking equipment. But the phenomenon of missing youngsters wasn’t a big feature of life back then.’
But then the date of this Family Liaison Officer’s callous remarks are significant. 7 years after Ruth Wilson vanished one day, never to be seen again – and eighteen months after he left the force. He was seeking a new career, as celebrity investigator, the must-have talking head whenever there was a major crime. The man with an inexhaustible supply of ideas as to how to turn crime into entertainment…is that why:
‘The refusal of the Wilsons to make themselves the centre of the story has certainly contributed to the lower profile of the case – later on they refused to appear on a game show where the audience would have been given the chance to vote for the next course of action taken by the family in the search for their daughter.’
I have no idea, in fact I cannot begin to think who on earth could have imagined, that taking the misery of one benighted family and turning it into a game show was the way to help them. The mind boggles.
This particular family liaison officer was, of course, Mark Williams-Thomas, who now sees himself as the celebrity policeman du jour; you can go to him if you don’t feel able to or want to, go to our national police force. He has a long line of criticisms of various police forces and their ‘not a clue’ attitude to policing. Now independent, Mark can be particularly vocal about current issues…
Mr Williams-Thomas, who acted as the Wilson family’s liaison officer, wrote an internal report criticising the methods used by the force to try to locate 16-year-old Ruth.
“The report went to the superintendent, but it was never signed to indicate that it had been seen. I got no actual response at all, other than the report being handed back to me. To the best of my knowledge, no action was taken.”
Not just Police forces, foreign and home grown, he criticises anyone who dares to comment on where his methods are taking our long established legal system. He demands their censure.
What has sparked his censure of this respected barrister?
She has long been pointing out the dangers present in our Family courts which have adopted a ‘therapeutic jurisprudence’ approach, resulting in the restriction of the right to due process, the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, the right to be tried in public, the right to confront one’s accusers, and the right to ‘equality of arms’ (that is, not to be tried under significantly less advantageous conditions that those enjoyed by one’s opponent). Other protections, such as restrictions on the use of hearsay evidence, the right to consult the expert of one’s choice, and even the right to communicate in confidence with one’s lawyers or one’s MP, have been placed in second place to the sense that ‘neutral professionals’ were working in the best interests of the child and should not be hampered by outdated technicalities.
Those who have seen their families rent asunder, new born babies snatched from their Mother’s arms following allegations by those ‘neutral professionals’ made in secret courts, or seen loved ones secretly deprived of their liberty by the Court of Protection, have long hailed her a heroine. She is an expert in the field. Yesterday she penned a cogent and well argued article pointing out that this therapeutic jurisprudence was being applied to the field of historic sex abuse. She criticised the methods that those involved with the current Yewtree investigation – which of course includes Mark Williams-Thomas, are using. She pointed out the inherent dangers to our legal system.
Within hours the Press Officer for the NSPCC was demanding that her article be either reworded or removed. They threatened to ‘approach news desks’ (what with, we know not!). Other commenters were more graphic, calling for her ‘to be raped’ and ‘hunted into obscurity’. It is heretical to call into question the methods by which the modern moral crusaders attempt to define abuse. Williams-Thomas himself called for her professional body to intervene – because she called for debate on where this new mode of justice is taking us?
I am reminded for some reason of Henry VIII. He was hugely critical of the Catholic church when they refused to reform themselves in line with his demands. He became hysterical with those who criticised him, denouncing them as heretics, demanding their heads roll, or sacking their homes and churches, as he rebuilt a ‘new’ church of which he was head, that developed new beliefs and rules and regulations.
However, it would be unfair to draw a comparison between the majestic figure of Henry VIII and Williams-Thomas; after all, he was but a pathological egotist whose only interest was in having his own way, achieving his own ends. He had no empathy with those whose lives he ruined along the way.