When someone dies suddenly or unexpectedly the police may be called. The police take statements, and arrange for someone to identify the person who has died. If the death did not happen in hospital they will arrange for the person’s body to be taken to the hospital mortuary. The police will also investigate to see if anyone has committed a criminal offence (such as the supply of illegal drugs).
Investigating the death
When someone dies unexpectedly, the law says there must be an investigation to find out what has happened. The first people involved (after any paramedics or medical staff) are likely to be the police. The police must pass on information to the coroner, who will run the investigation and officially record why the person died.
The police are likely to take written witness statements from friends, relatives and anyone else involved. You may be asked to provide personal details about the person who has died. The police will probably ask you about any drug taking that you are aware of.
The police must also investigate whether any laws have been broken (see below).
Moving the person who has died to the hospital
If the person who has died is not already in hospital, the police will arrange for the body to be moved from the place where they died. The police will use a local funeral director. You do not have to use the same funeral director for any funeral arrangements.
Your friend or relative will be taken to the hospital mortuary, where further tests and investigations will happen.
Identifying the person
The police will ask for a family member to name and identify the person who has died, in front of a police officer. This can happen where the person died, or it can happen later, at the hospital. Hospitals should be able to arrange this to happen in private and respectful surroundings. If you are asked to identify someone, you may want to take a friend or relative with you for support. It can be a distressing experience, but many people find they are glad they were able to see their loved one for a final time.
Investigating criminal offences
The police must investigate unexpected deaths to find out if anyone has committed a criminal offence. If your friend or relative has died from a drug overdose, they will want to find out who supplied the drugs.
If the supplier is found, they may be prosecuted in court and sentenced. Under the law they cannot be charged with manslaughter unless they helped to administer the drugs. A Judge will decide on the sentence for the supply of drugs, and if a death is involved, they may treat the supplier more severely.
The police should keep you informed about how the investigation is proceeding and when any court case may take place. This court case is separate from an inquest, and will usually take place at a later date.
Dealing with the police
You should always be given contact details for the police officer dealing with your case. The police and the coroner’s office should keep you up to date, and you should contact them if you have any questions.
We hope that all professionals dealing with you following a drug or alcohol related bereavement act with respect and compassion. But we know that this does not always happen. Recent guidelines are available for those whose work brings them into contact with adults bereaved after a drug or alcohol-related death, and you may like to bring these to the attention of any organisation who does not treat you, or the person who has died, kindly and with respect.
If you wish to complain about any aspect of the police’s actions, you can find out more from the independent police complaints commission