HEAD of the Association of Funeral Professionals of TT Keith Belgrove says Shawn Peterkin should take legal action after the bodies of four of his children decayed while being kept by a funeral home.
In an interview with Newsday, Belgrove said police are to blame for the state of the bodies of Faith Peterkin, ten, Arianna Peterkin, 14, Shane Peterkin, 17, and Tiffany Peterkin, 19, who were killed in their Heights of Guanapo home by gunmen on September 21.
"They have to address that to the police because the police was working through an agent – an agent they did not exercise due diligence in selecting."
Calling for a meeting with Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher, Belgrove said there needed to be regulations for selecting funeral homes to store the bodies of victims of crime.
His comments come after Peterkin told Newsday on Wednesday his four children's bodies were so decomposed that all four would have to be put in closed caskets for their funeral on Friday.
On Thursday, Belgrove said this was not the first time this type of incident had occurred.
"This one today has brought it out to the public domain, but it happens extremely regularly, and it needs to be fixed," he said.
He said funeral homes are used because the Forensic Science Centre does not have vehicles to transport the bodies or storage space.
Currently, he said funeral homes make applications and are given permission by the police superintendent in their area. But he said there are no guidelines on who should be selected.
"What criteria does he use? We do not know. It is not listed in the standing orders of the police, so he does not have clear directions."
He also said some homes are unequipped to handle these kinds of cadavers, and the police often do not check before issuing permission letters.
"Some of these funeral homes – I don't know about this particular one, I'm not saying this is what he (the home that had custody of the Peterkin bodies) has – but they buy a freezer at Courts. That is not made for the purpose. It's an absolutely ridiculous situation.
"There's another funeral home that don't have the space, so the new ones (bodies) that they bring in, they put inside (freezers), and the ones that were there before, they take out.
"By the time (of) the funeral there's a very disastrous situation at hand where families can't even view or can't even stand by. We need to fix the problem."
Belgrove said the association had met with crime scene investigators to develop standards, and the police can adopt these standards to prevent a repeat of the situation.
"That standard must now become part of the police directives in their standing orders to know how to select or, based on those standards, the association would select funeral homes who are in good standing...who we go out and examine to make sure they have the equipment, facilities, vehicles, uniforms, body bags to do a proper job so we look professional, and we deliver a professional service to the people of Trinidad and Tobago."
Belgrove said the association had tried to meet with the last three commissioners of police to discuss the matter but had been unsuccessful. He said the association is writing its fifth letter to Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher.
"We call upon the Commissioner of Police: please meet with representatives of our association. Together, we can quickly and easily fix this ugly problem and no longer will we cause distress."
The bodies of the Peterkin siblings were being kept by Dennie's Funeral Home until Tuesday. When the bodies arrived at the Forensic Science Centre in St James on Tuesday for the autopsy, their father, Shawn Peterkin, discovered they had already begun to decompose, and he could not identify his daughters.
The new funeral home, Allen's, was preparing for a closed-casket service for the joint funeral on Friday.
An official at Dennie's denied claims that the bodies decomposed while in its care. The official did not confirm whether the bodies were in a decomposed state or point fingers to indicate where this might have occurred.
However, he told Newsday to consider the time the bodies were removed from the crime scene, the time they were picked up by the home from the Arima General Hospital, the time they were escorted to the FSC on Tuesday and the time they were taken to the new funeral home.
Before Newsday's interview with Belgrove, DCP Curt Simon said the police were aware of the decomposition of the Peterkins, and assessments are ongoing into what went wrong.
"Different agencies tend to become involved in such tragic circumstances and storage, transportation and examination of the bodies may all be conducted by these varying agencies," he said.
"The TTPS is not about blaming and we have embarked upon a systems analysis in a bid to identify the problem and seek solutions. We do empathise with the friends and family who may encounter this additional trauma."