Seeing a body

Note on COVID-19: Rules to protect people during the pandemic may affect viewing a body.

Your choice

Viewing a loved one’s body is usually a personal choice – you may want to say goodbye, but equally you may want to remember them as they were. Sometimes, the police ask a relative or a close friend to view a body to identify someone.

What a body looks like

To help you decide, you can ask medical staff or your police contact to tell you what the body looks like. Sometimes bodies look different due to the way people died. Sometimes they do not.

If a body is damaged, medical staff may cover damaged areas with a sheet. You can ask which areas of a body may be covered or uncovered. Sometimes a body is a different colour, due to bleeding or bruising.

Where you view a body

A body is likely to be at either:

  • a hospital mortuary
  • a local authority mortuary, or
  • a funeral director’s premises.

If a body is in a hospital, a bereavement officer or hospital chaplain may be able to support you. You can ask if this support is available.

Touching a loved one’s body

If you decide to see a loved one’s body, you may wish to touch them. Talk to medical staff or your police contact first. Sometimes, bodies are delicate because they are damaged, or bodies should not be touched for reasons to do with a police investigation.

If you touch a loved one’s body, it may help to know that they will feel cold.

Identifying a loved one’s body

You do not have to view a body if asked by the police to identify someone who has died. You can ask if someone else could do this for you. Alternatively, you may be able to identify the body through an internal glass window (at the mortuary), or by photograph or by video recording.

In rare instances, a body is harder to identify due to injuries. In this case, police may ask you to help identify a loved one using dental records or providing a DNA sample (for example, from a hairbrush or toothbrush), or viewing belongings.