Is he dead?
Depending on where you work, a job in the London Ambulance Service will put you into contact with violent crime, and scenes of such crime; this may involve serious assault, rape, and murder. In a city of such size and diversity, crimes like these are sadly more common than you may suspect. Many are never reported in the media, as the culprit is quickly found, admits guilt, and only a cursory trial is deemed necessary. Despite living all my life in London, even I was surprised how frequently people are murdered, and how often I would come into contact with this crime during my time as an ambulanceman.
Unlike other incidents, people killed as a result of a crime, whether obvious, or suspected, are not removed by ambulance crews. The scene of the death will be secured by the Police, the local area canvassed for potential witnesses, and the CID will be handed the case, to begin their investigations. We have all seen this well represented on TV, and in films, to the extent that most viewers could probably carry out a reasonable investigation themselves, given adequate access, and resources.
What is rarely portrayed, is the initial arrival by uniformed Police Officers, and the first actions taken, on the discovery of a dead person. I am writing here about the mid 1980’s, and at this time, an ambulance was routinely called to the scene of a violent death. For the first Police Officers on scene, actual death had to be formally established, irrespective of the extent of the injury, and what commonsense may have indicated. Once the ambulance crew confirm that they can do nothing for the deceased, then an on-call doctor is summoned, to officially decree the same, by reason of their qualification to do so.
Late one evening, we were called by Police to a flat in the Westbourne Park area of West London. The call was given over the radio, as ‘male stabbed, query fatal.’ As the call had originated from Scotland Yard, we could assume that the diagnosis would be reasonably accurate, depending on the experience of the officers on scene. On arrival, we were met by a P.C., who asked if just one of us could accompany him to the flat. This was not unusual, as it reduced contamination of the scene. As I was the attendant (not driving) for that shift, I grabbed the first aid bag, and walked up the steps to the ground floor flat, which was part of a conversion of a much larger house, into numerous small flats. Another policeman waited in the doorway. I knew him well, and he nodded to me, muttering ‘it’s not too good in there.’
I walked into the entrance to the flat, and looked around the door. What had once been a large drawing-room, now served as living room and kitchen combined. At the rear, two doors led off this area, one presumably led to a bedroom, and the other to a bathroom and toilet. The decor was a matter of taste, best described as ‘early 70’s garish.’ The floor was covered in vinyl flooring, and a faded rug outlined the space differential between kitchen, and living area. It had been a very long time since any of the interior had seen a coat of paint, and cleaning was obviously not a priority of the tenant either. To my left, stretched out on the floor, was the naked body of a man. He looked to be aged about 40, and the whole area around him was completely covered in a thick pool of blood, extending to the edges of my boots. A six foot man, weighing about 12 stones, will have approximately 12 pints of blood in his circulation. If you can imagine getting 12 milk bottles, each holding a pint, and pouring them around your living room floor, you will have some idea of the extent of this blood loss.
The complete chalk-white colour of the body indicated that life was well and truly extinct. People who die in such situations are whiter than you can imagine. However, to play my part in this farcical scene, I had to touch the man, and confirm that there was no pulse, and no possibility of resuscitation. I walked through the blood, the few paces necessary to get close enough to do so. On examination, I could see that his throat had been cut, with some force, and a large spray pattern of blood up the nearby wall, confirmed this as the probable fatal injury. His nose had also been completely cut off, sliced away, leaving a strange appearance to his face. As his trachea was visible through the wound in his neck, and his body was stone cold, and pulse-less, I concluded that we could do nothing more. From the doorway, the first policeman asked, ‘is he dead?’ There was no irony implied, and none taken; we all knew the ropes.
I had to give statements of course, though I never had to attend court, as the murderer had actually been in the flat, and it was him that had originally called 999. I bitterly regretted the loss of my most comfortable boots, which had to be surrendered for forensic examination, and despite promises received, were never returned to me. We left the scene shortly afterwards, and would have not known any more about this job, if I had not bumped into one of the officers later that year.
It seems that the resident of the flat, the dead man, had made the acquaintance of his killer in a nearby pub, and invited him home for drinks. After a few glasses, the older man had disappeared into the bedroom, returning completely undressed, and made sexual advances to the other. In his defence, the killer stated that he had not expected this to happen, and tried to leave, the other man preventing him from doing so. In the struggle that ensued, he had grabbed a large kitchen knife, and in his words, ‘just waved it about.’ During this ‘waving’, he managed to completely slice off the man’s nose, and then cut so deeply into his neck, that he partially detached his head from his neck. He pleaded to manslaughter, with mitigation for self-defence.
I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.