So, we’ve looked at how police talk to each other, deal with crime scenes and places you can research policing for your novel. Today we are going to look at the post mortem.
In the UK, a Home Office Pathologist is appointed by the Coroner to perform a post mortem. The purpose is to find cause of death, establish the extent of the injuries, see any presence of natural disease and make a record of these findings. You may be surprised to find out that they can also offer opinions on what may have happened at the crime scene.
The role of the Pathologist is not just confined to the mortuary. They can attend the crime scene if the SIO feels it necessary and this is likely for complex scenes. Multiple shots in a shooting, multiple stabbings, more than one scene, attempted destruction of the body, decomposition etc. I’m sure you can bring your Pathologist out if you want them there. It’s not likely to read as unreasonable. At the scene s/he would take samples and tapings in situ and attempt to estimate time of death.
When removing your body from the scene to the morg, if samples haven’t been taken by your pathologist for any reason, then your victims hands need to be bagged up and you even need to consider bagging up their head, particularly if there is a head wound. It doesn’t look pleasant or particularly dignified but we’re looking at preserving evidence to enable the police to catch the person who did this to them in the first place and that’s what has to be held onto.
Your Pathologist can also be a great help to your SIO by providing them with expert assistance with bodies, bones, body parts, type and dimensions of possible weapons and crime scenes, and regular contact is maintained throughout the investigation. So, any TV dramas that have the Pathologist doing the running around investigating are only using a little (OK, maybe a bit more than a little – but they really are invaluable) creative licence!
The post mortem itself will help with any identification issues you may have with your victim as everything about the body will be recorded; height, weight, general physique, sex, ethnicity, clothing, jewellery, birth marks, tattoos, surgical scars, hair colour etc.etc. Fingerprints will also be taken and if identification is an issue a Odontologist will be on hand to take impressions of the teeth as well as recording all the teeth present and absent and which have fillings and crowns and bridges.
Samples are taken from the body for toxicological analysis as well as the contents of the stomach to see what the last meal was.
Police are present during the post mortem for a couple of reasons, so they know what’s happening as it’s happening and to collect evidence, for example, any clothing that has to be removed is seized, packaged and sealed.
All this is done to get a full picture of the victim and what was happening before the murder and at the time of the murder so that the police can work to arresting an offender.
One thing that is little known, is that the family is entitled to be present at the post mortem, or they can send a medical or legal person to stand for them. I’m not sure how many family members would want to stand and watch this, but for writers, it’s an interesting tidbit.
Also, the Coroner can’t release the body straight away as the defence have a right to a second post mortem by a pathologist of their choice and if the police haven’t yet arrested and charged anyone with the crime, then the body has to be held for 28 days when a second independent Pathologist will be sought out to conduct the second PM. This is obviously distressing for the family but the defence have to be able to dispute anything that may be in the original post mortem report that could go against the charged person.
There’s an excellent document HERE which is an ACPO document on policing and the Pathologist and post mortems and it will give you a more comprehensive view of what I’ve given you a brief overview of. (This document is 39 pages long!) but it is well worth a read.
If you have any questions on this latest post, please feel free to leave them in the comments and if you have any questions you want covering in a future post, let me know those in the comments as well.
Did anything surprise you about the role of the Pathologist or the post mortem?