Psychological Impact and Implications for Recovery

When Jeremy became a suspect he was questioned irresponsibly, aggressively, and insensitively, and for the first two days without a lawyer, and without his interviews being audio tape recorded. All records of Jeremy's interviews were handwritten transcripts made by police officers. This must have caused considerable resentment. The ITA states:

“Parents of murdered children and other relatives where the victim is a woman or a child are often prime suspects in a murder investigation, and the need to collect information at this stage overrides the emotional needs of individuals”.[1]

Indeed Jeremy Bamber is at one point quoted as calling DS Jones a bastard[2] for his relentless questioning about his relationship to his dead family. The bereaved often feel a sense of powerlessness because they don’t know what to expect in the aftermath of murder and limited support hinders recovery – in the case of Jeremy he would have had to cope with the trauma and of loss and of being accused, there was little movement for Jeremy to grieve. [3]

This sense of powerlessness was felt by Jeremy, who had been a witness to an ordeal of seeing someone moving in the window of the house; felling confused when officers didn’t enter the premises immediately, even after he suggested that they do so; standing with police for many hours while they rallied firearms teams who would not allow entry to the house for many more hours and witnessing large numbers of armed officers drafted in before his very eyes. It is no surprise then, that Jeremy was hugely distressed by the impact of the deaths and broke down in tears frequently and was distracted by the police officer he was with into talking about other things. This was subsequently used against him in court.[4] Had he been provided with appropriate support at the scene and not bundled into a police vehicle and asked random questions about what cars he liked, his Defence case would have been considerably stronger. In today’s world a victim support worker, local doctor and specialist grief counselor would have been called out to assist him.[5]

Further trauma appeared when it was not explained to Jeremy fully what had happened.[6] PS Bews told him of the deaths of his family.

“I informed him that entry had been made to the Farmhouse, and that his Father, Mother, Sister and two nephews were all found, dead. He made no reply but shut his eyes, and began crying.”

I asked Jeremy if he recalled this conversation:

“I only recall PS Bews telling me that everyone was dead. I was angry at police for killing my family as they said it would be all right.”

I didn’t know how to interpret this at first, but Jeremy means that he thought the police were swarming the house with guns – he had been waiting for hours and had witnessed large numbers of armed police arrive. Officers note that Jeremy said he thought the police had killed his family.

Further to this, his treatment by the media and his extended family suggests that the extremely limited support hindered any chance of recovery Jeremy might have been able to make in the early weeks after the tragedies.

Jeremy’s doctor prescribed Diazepam to him later that day; it is likely that Jeremy suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, but was never offered counseling formally and was not seen by a psychologist or any mental health professional prior to being convicted. The simple fact that Jeremy was responsible for leaving a rifle out with a loaded magazine by its side which Sheila then picked up to shoot the family should have been addressed by a counselor. A Victim Support Volunteer would have addressed on many different aspects mentioned here.

After his conviction his assessments have been lengthy and comprehensive within the prison service which at one point did diagnose him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - a normal reaction to very traumatic events in his life. Nevertheless, he has been found to be non psychopathic and has no mental illnesses or personality disorder.

These are stark contrasts to the handling of victims in today’s society. Most people in the survey referred to the need for information about and strategies for dealing with emotional and psychological trauma as well as the physical impact of the murder.[7] Most people said their volunteer helped them understand their own responses. Most people consulted a GP early on and were offered prescribed medication. In the first instance at the scene Jeremy was given whiskey from a hip flask by a doctor, an idea unthinkable in today’s society. It is unlikely that a 24 year old man whose family had been ripped from him had any idea of how to identify or understand his responses to his own sister killing his whole family and her children. Jeremy smoked marijuana, drank alcohol and took prescribed medication as a coping mechanism. He was photographed looking dazed and often grinning under the flashlight of constant media intrusion and hoards of screaming women who had turned out to support him at court.

Bereaved people also reported a wide range of physical symptoms,[8] such as fatigue, bodily pains, breathlessness, headaches, hallucinations, nausea and palpitations. Studies have found an increase in smoking—particularly pot in Jeremy’s case. There were also symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress such as sleep disturbance, loss of concentration, restlessness, over sensitivity to noise and panic attacks. This suggests a need to explore physical well-being as well as psychological ones. Jeremy lost weight within weeks of the tragedy and this is apparent in photographs. He was also having difficulty sleeping and was taking prescribed medication for this. In addition at the scene Jeremy had been vomiting and on his return to Goldhanger was advised by clumsy police officers to eat what ever he could. He ate microwaved bacon in some bread. Many hours later the police had not provided a single counselor or liaison officer for Jeremy to talk about what he was experiencing.

[1] ITA.Pg. 18, further detail includes ‘family members undergo DNA tests and intensely intimate questioning about the victim, the family and themselves at a time when they are very vulnerable (Harrison, 1999; Rock, 1998). This is not always felt to be carried out with sensitively, and can cause resentment’

[2] Jeremy Bamber Police Interviews 8th-12th September 1985.

[3] ITA. Pg. 37, limited information and criminal justice procedures hinder recovery.

[4] PC Lay Statement.

[5] Dr Craig was called to the scene to confirm the deaths; his role in supporting Jeremy was secondary and involved a quick chat and the offer of some whiskey.

[6] PS Bews, Statement, 8.8.85.

[7] ITA, pg. 38

[8] ITA, pg. 38