Body of evidence

Keith Belgrove - Lincoln Holder
Keith Belgrove - Lincoln Holder

THE HORRORS involved in cases of murder are unimaginable to those who have never had to experience them. But for thousands of people in this country, those horrors are not abstract. These people must endure real-life torment, trauma and grief.

The emergence of reports of a lack of adequate storage facilities – whether public or private – for bodies extends the list of the kinds of suffering these such people must go through. Their ordeal, already harrowing, is worsened by the indignities involved when bodies are so badly handled that closed caskets are necessitated.

That is exactly what has happened in the case of Shawn Peterkin’s family. The entire country was shocked by the brutal murders of Mr Peterkin’s four children – to the extent that the matter reached the highest levels of our government and was even mentioned on the floor of the UN General Assembly.

But more shock has come with the disclosure of problems with the custody chain of the bodies. A grieving Mr Peterkin not only told this newspaper that his children had to be buried in closed caskets, but it also emerged that the bodies had arrived at the Forensic Science Centre in St James in a state of decomposition that made it almost impossible for him to identify them.

The bodies had been stored at a private funeral home because the centre simply does not have the space. Later, the entire handling of the bodies was transferred to yet another funeral home.

Meanwhile, officials have been passing the buck on the matter, with some saying the fault is with police, others saying it is due to the State’s inability to expand the forensics centre, and yet others suggesting the problem lies with the lack of proper regulation for funeral homes.

According to Keith Belgrove, the head of the Association of Funeral Professionals of TT, Mr Peterkin’s case is, sadly, not the first.

“It happens extremely regularly, and it needs to be fixed,” he said.

The police, meanwhile, are now doing a “systems analysis” in relation to this issue.

“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,” disclosed DCP Curt Simon this week.

The police analysis needs to be done with urgency. If bodies are not properly stored, not only is this an affront to the dignity of the victims and their families, but it represents a serious challenge in terms of evidence-gathering.

At the root of this problem, of course, is the sheer number of bodies that must be subject to forensic analysis in the first place. But that figure is high enough; the State does not need to add to the misery.


"Body of evidence"

More in this section