Keith Belgrove –
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 were 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 need 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 occurred.
“This one today (incident) 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 Forensics Sciences 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 Superintendent within their area. However, 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,” Belgrove said.
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,” he said.
He said the association met with Crime Scene Investigators to develop standards. He said 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 has been trying to secure a meeting with the last three Commissioners of Police to discuss the matter but has been unsuccessful. He said the association is writing its fifth letter to Commissioner Earla 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 Sciences 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 refuted claims that the bodies decomposed while in their 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.
However, citing reports he saw with the funeral home’s explanation, Belgrove said the assertion that the bodies began to decay because the police left them in a vehicle in the hot sun does add up, given that they were young children.
“In another media, I saw the explanation of the funeral home. The funeral home explanation does not hold water but the point that they are pointing out that the police had those deceased persons in a hot vehicle for many hours,” he said.
“These were young children, they were in the pink of health. They should not have decomposed although they were in a hot vehicle so clearly, there was a refrigeration situation for these children.”
Before Newsday’s interview with Belgrove, DCP Curt Simon said the police are 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.”