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You wouldn't use a phone driving if you saw what I have seen; traffic pc in stark warning over use of mobiles.

Byline: SOPHIE DOUGHTY Crime Reporter @Sophie_Doughty

HE HAS witnessed senseless carnage which has left him sobbing by the side of the road.

Behind the wheel of his patrol car, stocky traffic officer PC Derek Longstaff looks every inch the burly policeman.

But the experienced constable has admitted to being reduced to tears by the lives he has seen needlessly lost on Tyneside's roads. Today, PC Longstaff lifts the lid on what it is like to deliver the worst possible news to the families of crash casualties.

And the Northumbria Police officer also has a stark warning for those who think it is acceptable to use their phones behind the wheel.

He said: "If people could see what I have seen they would never ever pick up a mobile phone while driving. I have been sat on the side of the road in tears before, and I'm not ashamed to say that."

PC Longstaff has been a traffic officer with Northumbria Police since 2010 and is now part of the force's specialist motor patrols team, Operation Dragoon.

While policing the roads the hardened officer adopts a zero tolerance approach to those who put lives in danger.

But in his role as a traffic family liaison officer (FLO) PC Longstaff has been called upon to support loved ones of those killed in collisions during the worst moments of their lives.

"The role of the FLO is to deliver the worst news in the world to loved ones," he explains. "Imagine the worst thing in the world and times it by 100.

"It devastates families. It doesn't matter who they are or what background they come from, to give anyone that horrendous news is just heartbreaking, not just for them but for us. We have got families too - it does affect everybody in the emergency services."

In the aftermath of one collision, PC Longstaff said he had to use a picture book to help explain to a little boy that his dad was dead.

He has also had to explain to families that he needs them to identify their loved one's body after delivering the devastating news.

And FLOs regularly have to inform grieving relatives that their loved ones may have lost their lives needlessly.

Collision investigations can now often involve the downloading of data from the driver's mobile phone. And families at inquests can often hear that texts or calls might have caused the collisions that took their loved one's life.

"When we have had an accident that is avoidable it is so frustrating for us, because we try our damnedest to stop it from happening," said PC Longstaff.

"We are not doing this to be party-poopers.

"If you could spend a day with us and see the catastrophic effect it has on families, who will have to live with it, you would see that. Everybody thinks, 'it's not going to happen to me'.'" ."

And PC Longstaff said this is why he is determined to make road users think about the dangers of using mobile phones.

He said: "I just don't want people to die on the roads. And if that means I upset some people, so be it.

"Ask yourself, 'do I want to go to jail?' Do you want to take somebody else's life or lose your own life? If the answer is no, then put the phone away.

"No phone call or text is worth that. But trying to get that across to people is probably the hardest job we have."

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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 3, 2017
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