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Daily dealings with death

ANNA LOREN
Last updated 05:00 24/06/2014
Martin and Roz Williams

DEDICATED: The couple receive a police appreciation certificate from then-Commissioner Peter Marshall

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Murder scenes might turn many people's stomachs but they're an exciting challenge for Martin and Roz Williams.

The two were designated funeral directors for the Counties Manukau police for 10 years.

And they've been recognised by the police with a certificate of appreciation for their "professionalism and dedication".

For the past decade they, along with colleague Jo Nevin, have been on call 24/7 to collect and transport bodies from the scenes of homicides, suicides and car crashes.

They'd generally be called out once a day and "you never knew what you were going to get", Martin Williams says.

Some bodies would need to be cut out of vehicles or retrieved from cupboards, all without disturbing a crime scene or destroying crucial evidence.

On one occasion he was lowered from a police helicopter on to the Mangere mud flats to collect a body.

Crime doesn't happen on a schedule and police calls could come at all hours of the day, he says. "I'd go to bed and the moment my head hit the pillow the phone would go. I said, ‘Have you guys got a camera in my bedroom'?"

Williams fell into the industry at the age of 19 after being laid off from his previous job making spa pools.

"I've always worked - I wasn't going to go on the dole. So I picked up the Yellow Pages and I said, ‘When the book opens, I'm going to harass them for a job," he says.

His finger landed on Battersby Funeral Services in Avondale, where he worked for about a decade before starting his own business, Martin Williams Funeral Directors in Papatoetoe.

Wife Roz joined the industry when the couple married in 1999.

Police call-outs could be tough because "you see death in the raw - that really messy stage", she says.

"But sometimes it's not so much the bodies as the other people who are there.

"Some are confrontational, some are upset and they take it out on us.

"Because we're the frontline, we're making it real - the person down in the bedroom's actually dead."

The couple stepped back from the role late last year after changes to the country's coronial system.

The main thing they miss is the daily contact with the men and women in blue, Roz says.

"We actually got the easy end of things.

"We came in, we lifted the body, we take it away, but they have to talk to the family, take statements and write it all up ... Once we took the body to the coroner, we were done."

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- Manukau Courier

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