Crime scene clean-up: a victim’s family wants Queenslanders to be spared the trauma

·4 min read

Shelley Allison will never forget the look on her dad’s face after he walked out of the house where her daughter Haley was murdered. “Before the crime scene clean-up, my father had to do a walk-through of the house and I never understood why,” Allison says. “This big man, he went white … It was heartbreaking.”

The family were still coming to terms with Haley’s death when they learned, in the midst of their grief, that they were responsible for organising the cleaning of the gruesome crime scene.

Now they’re advocating for change so other families are spared the unsettling task of organising such cleaning as they mourn the death of a loved one.

Haley Allison was 26 when she was strangled, stabbed 10 times and set on fire by her ex-partner, Jason Michael Spina, in her family home in Caboolture, north of Brisbane, in December 2009.

Spina was sentenced to life in prison for the murder, with a postmortem finding Haley’s wounds were so deep they penetrated her chest and exited her back.

After Haley’s death, police told the family to hire a forensic cleaning service. They could send an invoice and paperwork to Victim Assist Queensland and be reimbursed, the officer said.

The grieving family were busy planning a funeral, so other relatives spared them the task of organising the cleaning.

“I was only 16 at the time and it was a very traumatic experience,” says Haley’s cousin Josie Spicer.

“[The cleaning service] neglected to clean upstairs and we found the murderer’s burnt skin in the shower … and my cousin’s blood on some photo frames.

The government is not going to be able to protect us from the emotions that come from losing someone, but they can mitigate adding to the harm

Josie Spicer

“I can’t imagine how you can look at that and think that that’s at all acceptable. It just compounded the trauma that we experienced.”

Haley’s family were on holidays at the time of her murder. They’ve since sold the home where she grew up.

“We moved into my husband’s parents’ place for six months before we bought another house … We’d wake up, we still do now, in the middle of the night screaming,” Allison says. “It’s affected the whole family.”

The family wants Queensland to follow South Australia’s lead, where police engage companies to clean homicide crime scenes and the commissioner for victims’ rights is invoiced directly for the costs. There are similar processes in place in Western Australia.

“There’s so much going on already after a tragedy,” Spicer says. “Having to call someone and ask them for like their pricing and their availability to clean up your loved one’s remnants shouldn’t be in the equation at all.”

Prof Grant Devilly, a clinical psychologist at Griffith University, says he was surprised to learn victims of crime need to organise forensic cleaning in Queensland.

“I would have expected there was more support with the forensic clean-up service, whether that’s done by the coroner’s court or police,” Devilly says.

“As long as the family is involved, that seems to be a much more preferable circumstance.”

Queensland’s attorney general, Shannon Fentiman, says funding of up to $50,000 is available to family members of homicide victims that can be used to cover the cost of forensic cleaning.

Related: Victims of crime seek tougher youth sentencing in Queensland, but could that make things worse?

Fentiman did not comment on whether the state would consider changes to the system to follow South Australia’s model.

“We understand that organising forensic cleaning can be a difficult and incredibly distressing task,” Fentiman says.

“That’s why we provide financial assistance to help victims to recover from the physical and psychological impacts of violent crime through Victims Assist Queensland.”

Fentiman says families can also access support through the Queensland Homicide Victims Support Group, which may be able to assist in the process of organising cleaning, as well as other expert emotional support.

A Queensland police spokesperson says authorities “may recommend forensic cleaning occurs following an act of violence in a residential or commercial setting”.

“As victims may feel overwhelmed and vulnerable … officers may suggest they speak with a support service or Queensland police around how to engage a forensic cleaner,” the spokesperson says.

“A victim may also decide to nominate another member of the family to manage this process at this time.”

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Spicer says the family is speaking out because they remember Haley as someone who was “infuriated by injustice” and would raise her voice “no matter the cost to her”.

“The way I remember her and try to keep her her alive is even when I’m scared or if there’s someone else who is being treated poorly, I try to speak up. This is an extension of it,” she says.

“The government is not going to be able to protect us from the emotions that come from losing someone, but they can mitigate adding to the harm.”

• In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 and the domestic abuse helpline is 0808 2000 247. In the US, the suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found via www.befrienders.org

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