Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1020-1039)



  1020. I will come back to you in a moment, do not worry. Dr Boakes?
  (Dr Boakes) I would agree with Professor Gudjonsson. I do not know what the empirical basis is and I have no idea how much is founded in basic science and how much is part of the mythology that springs up around paedophilia. So I do not think I really have anything to add.

  1021. All right. Could I ask, probably Mr Parker first but the others obviously can join in, do you think the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have sufficient knowledge and training on the nature of paedophiles, as we have had described, to be able to investigate the cases effectively?
  (Mr Parker) I think it depends what focus of training they need. I think very often there is a rush towards more training because people are not recognising things, people do not have an awareness of things. I think we should all have a general awareness, and I think maybe that level of awareness needs to be raised, of the general issues. I think when it comes to investigating particularly the historical accounts of abuse, that training needs to be more specialised. And I think, in terms of best value and getting the best out of your resources, which are always stretched, it is about specialist units which we are now seeing, of course, in the investigation of rape. So training certainly, but also general awareness, yes, can be useful. But specific specialised training to recognise some of the errors and some of the difficulties in investigating historical accounts, yes.
  (Professor Gudjonsson) I would very much support that. I attended a conference in Belgium organised by the Belgian Police and I presented a talk. The focus was very much on that. It is actually to develop a proper specialism in certain cases of interviewing and looking very closely at the personality of the police officer and the individual's needs. So I think things are moving in that direction.

  1022. Thank you for that. Dr Thompson, I want to come back to you specifically on your memorandum which you sent to the Committee and ask you; you say in that memorandum that those charged with collecting and presenting the evidence—and you use quite a stark phrase, you say—". . . are either incapable of reviewing it or by either accident or design, engaged in inventing it". Can you tell us what you mean by "incapable of the reviewing the evidence"?
  (Dr Thompson) You have a major problem in this country. It has been demonstrated again and again with every inquiry that Parliament holds or the courts hold or whatever. And that is when it comes to child sexual assault, whether it is contemporary cases or whether it is historical cases, one thing that has always horrified me in 12, 13 years now is that, believe it or not, social workers and police officers too tend not to review their interviews. And one of the reasons they tend not to do this is time, but another reason is they are incapable. I had a social worker, and it is typical in Kent, five, six weeks ago when I was giving evidence, they were deciding whether to submit a video of an interview into court. The social worker stood up there, she had done almost a hundred cases, and she was wonderfully honest, excellent, she would make a very good interviewer, she admitted she had never, ever read the transcript of one of her interviews before. It was not the practice in Kent Social Services to do that. What happens is this; when you are looking for statements of evidential value, those are what you look for, no matter how long the interview took place and worse, no matter what questions you asked to obtain that evidential value. The social worker also said, from the witness box, that she would have welcomed the opportunity to be trained how to review an interview so that she could determine when—because obviously they were going over my evidence now—she had been leading, inadvertently, and I firmly believe that this social worker was inadvertently leading the child, and unfortunately she did too, half way through, make some pretty suggestive comments because she was getting a little frustrated with the interview. Now, come on. It has been how many years since Cleveland? How many years since Orkney? How many years since Rochdale? It does not matter that you have got a Memorandum of Good Practice. The fact is, in this country, in ordinary contemporary cases, 40 to 50 per cent of the questions asked in every damn memorandum interview in this country is either leading or is suggestive. And in those circumstances, quite frankly, they should not have too much evidential value. Now, for various reasons they do. When it comes to historical cases, your need for reviewing what you have said to lead to the evidence that you are then going to selectively pick out of all the hundreds of things that are said and written down is even more important because at least in contemporary cases you might have some DNA, you might have a gynaecologist's report, you might have a confession, you might have some witnesses, you might have some other evidence, whether it is circumstantial or not. In these cases, you do not. You have a series of allegations. And I will remind you of the faggot fallacy; sticking a load of thin allegations together does not make them thicker or stronger. You have just got a bundle of very weak allegations. In these circumstances it is even more vital to cross-check and look at what is being said. I sent you a case where, on first looking at it, it is quite clear, open and shut. The guys did it. The MO is all the same, is it not? You start looking. You start comparing the accounts that are being given. If you then also looked at the questions that were asked, and unfortunately you cannot because it is not recorded and I have to discern them from the interviews, then you have got a serious problem because at various occasions in that case, particularly if you put them in chronological order, you will suddenly see something. The moment something is mentioned in, say, interview 3, all of a sudden it is mentioned in interview 4, 5 and 6. Now there is only one way you can get that cross-contamination and I proved that in Orkney. You get cross-contamination through the interview process. And that is happening here. If you reviewed some of these cases, I am sure you could have got out of the situation where you prosecuted potentially very innocent people who do not have a stain on their character at all. Let us be perfectly clear, and whatever people say, the police are not trained necessarily in interview reviews, because that is not the way the system works. And social workers definitely are not trained. It is about time, for the sake of the children, I will morally blackmail you, that you should do that and that all these people were trained. Ten years ago, I trained social workers on a post qualifying course. As far as I am aware, that is the only time social workers have ever been trained in interview procedure, review and error avoidance.
  (Mr Parker) Can I just clarify some points? You make the point 40 to 50 per cent suggestive questions within an interview. That may be within a very small sample and I am sure there are examples of that, but that is not generally the case and I am sure that it would be an extreme point to say that all statements are leading or suggestive in style.
  (Dr Thompson) Thank you. I should make it perfectly clear, people come to me on cases, when they are alleging they are being falsely accused, I do not look at the whole range of cases. Thank you, Andrew.
  (Mr Parker) I think maybe the other point is that yes, I think there is a gap certainly in the Home Office Guidance, the Memorandum of Good Practice and the recent revised version Achieving Best Evidence, and that is on preparation for the interview, assessing someone's vulnerabilities and special needs within an interview process. It does deal with the interview, the phased approach to the interview itself, but it does not go on to reviewing or evaluating the evidence from that interview. And I think that is a gap.

  1023. Professor Gudjonsson and Mr Parker again, could either or both of you give us a brief explanation of the statement validity analysis and how that is applied to test the veracity of historical child abuse?
  (Mr Parker) Statement validity analysis is a structured approach of evaluating testimony evidence. It has been used since the 1950s in Europe, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. In actual fact, in Germany it is part of a court mandated evaluation of child witness evidence. It has been formulated and changed, added to and subtracted from over the years. It is used in certain jurisdictions in the US as an investigative tool. It looks at preparation for the interview, exactly the points I have just made, preparation for the interview, the interview process itself being a step-wise phased approach interview or a funnel interview, where you start with an open narrative, encouragement for the witness to say everything they want to say about the story or the event and then, later in the interview, encouraging more elaborative detail on certain aspects, say the setting, the person and the activity of an individual or context features. Then later in the interview, being more directive in your prompts or questions. Then an analysis on the basis of the content of the language being used. Generally this is done through a written transcript of what has been said and that is on the basis is what is called the CBCA, Criteria Based Content Analysis. In my view, this is seeking to find elements of the account which are likely to be experienced memories or memories of experienced events rather than manufactured memories or through suggestion. The third element, which is forgotten by an awful lot of researchers, is the validity check list and that is basically looking at the motivations, the psychological aspects of the interview process and whether it was a good interview or not and also any other supporting evidence, such as forensic, medical, corroborative evidence. So that you get a case review, not just of the statement or the testimony, but where what the person is saying fits in with other available information. So it is a holistic, structured approach to assessment of the evidence in a case.

  1024. Professor Gudjonsson, do you have anything to add to that?
  (Professor Gudjonsson) It is mainly used for children, so dealing with something that is used for children, that is how it was developed and that is how it seems to be most effectively used because it focuses on what the knowledge of the child might be. But Andrew raised some important points about the social influence. In an interview, there are various things happening. There are the cognitive factors involving the individual, his or her memory capacity and so forth. But also, strong motivational components. Is the person prepared to give a clear, comprehensive account or is the person just there to please the interviewer? And this thing about social influence, the eagerness to please, is very, very important and obviously that is something that has got to be focused on or is focused on in this particular assessment strategy. So I think it is an interesting procedure. The question is, how valid is it? What is the evidence for its validity, and it is rather mixed. And I think Andrew has been reviewing the evidence, but it is rather mixed. I think you have also been looking at it.
  (Dr Thompson) Yes.

  1025. Can I just ask you then, you are obviously still analysing the analysis, so to speak, but if that holistic system was used more comprehensively, say in these kind of investigations, what, realistically, difference would that make, do you think? Because you were saying that it was particularly useful with children. I can see how that would be the case. The people we are talking about are now almost certainly adults.
  (Mr Parker) I think the first thing to say is a general comment about the structure of the evaluation of the evidence that you have in a case. As Bill has already said, quite often there is insufficient evaluation of the evidence before the evidence file goes to the Crown Prosecutors and I do not think it serves the victim justice or the alleged perpetrator justice by having the first detailed evaluation of the evidence and challenge of inconsistency conducted by the defence counsel. I think that process of evaluation should occur earlier on in an investigation and as part of the investigation. I think the value of SVA is that it provides a structure to that evaluation and instead of relying on subjective indicators of credibility, which we all use, it is an objective basis on which to give direction to inquiries. So if we are looking at a hypothesis or we are suggesting that this allegation is not true, then we look at certain features. I am not explaining it very well. It is based on a number of criteria and the criteria is limited to 19 criteria in the traditional analysis. And these could be things like unusual detail, unexpected complication with the act, it could be all sorts of different criteria. My view is that the criteria are limited and would do well to be expanded and that is part of my research project.

  1026. Do you think then that either the police or the Crown Prosecution Service could apply the technique or do you think that it might need the expertise of a psychologist or a psychiatrist to do that?
  (Mr Parker) I am not sure that you could get many psychiatrists to think about using SVA, but it would be quite an achievement if you did. I think as a screening tool the basic SVA is a good start. It provides a structure and it provides an element of objectivity in the evaluation. However, the extended range of criteria that I have alluded to does require some more specialised knowledge. As a screening tool I have developed a competency assessment tool, an interview assessment tool and a SVA statement validity analysis tool, and these could be reduced down to provide officers with a basic level of guidance and training, a means of screening an allegation or a statement to see whether it needs a more detailed specialised review.
  (Professor Gudjonsson) Is this after the interview has been conducted? Because it all depends on the quality of the information you have.
  (Mr Parker) Absolutely, yes.
  (Professor Gudjonsson) Because if you are doing this kind of an exercise, you have got to have proper recording and it has to be a kind of free flow account. If the statement that is taken by the police is a statement that has got a summary, this technique could not be used. You need a proper contemporaneous and a free flowing account so the quality of the information you have is extremely important. You cannot just apply this technique to any statement and preferably you should also interview the complainant yourself to kind of check.
  (Mr Parker) That is right.
  (Professor Gudjonsson) So it is quite a complicated procedure, but I do not see that the CPS or the police can just have a quick check list and use it. It has to be used very, very cautiously and the quality of the information you have is what determines the outcome.

  1027. Right. So all the techniques you were talking about earlier with video recording and so on, would make a much bigger difference.
  (Mr Parker) Absolutely, yes. It would make my job a lot easier. It is a search for evidence and it does not prove or disprove an allegation in itself. It provides pointers for investigative or prosecution decision making.

  1028. Dr Boakes, do you have anything to say on that?
  (Dr Boakes) I do not really know anything about this. The only thought that occurs to me is that presumably one would need to have all the preliminary meetings between the investigating officer and the complainant, as well as any formal statement, because we do know that sometimes, in some cases, a number of interviews have taken place before a statement. And sometimes many months have gone by between somebody first going to the police and a formal statement coming up. Presumably you would have to have all of that otherwise you would—
  (Dr Thompson) You would not know how it has been shown.
  (Dr Boakes) Yes.
  (Dr Thompson) That is the major weakness. For example, if you were to look at statements that are sometimes generated out of children's interviews, I have just highlighted three from the minimal and the extended check list that I was looking at the other day, these can be generated in an interview, which is why you would have to have the recording to make sure that some of the criteria one is using to assess the viability had not actually been generated by accident or design by leading or suggestive questions. Or, as sometimes occurs, repetitive interviewing in which case, whether it is a child, a teen or an adult, they will get their story so off to pat that it is often times impossible to get inside that story and try to find out where attributional source errors may have occurred in the first place. So Janet would be right there. If there had been prior interviews, you would have to have that material as well. But I certainly would think it would be handy in the armoury if we could get a form of it as standard to be used. But the important thing is, where it is used systematically in other countries, it is a bit like the precognisance system in Scotland, the person who does the analysis also does the interviewing, so they are less likely to lead or be suggestive or whatever.

  1029. Just finally, to Mr Parker again, picking up on what you said in terms of the use of statement of validity analysis, if it was developed more and was used more frequently, would it improve the quality of the prosecution? Would it lead to more convictions?
  (Mr Parker) I believe it would because it would allow more objective analysis of the evidence in a case. It would allow a better consideration of a number of alternative hypotheses as to what actually happened and it would focus decision making or lines of inquiry, where there are gaps or inconsistencies—really, what it does, it highlights inconsistencies in the evidence. If you have a good reading of testimony and you balance that against other information that is known in the investigation, then you have a good system of assessing where the gaps are or inconsistencies are in what the person is saying. And this would help highlight those.

  1030. And therefore help you make the decision as to whether you pursue that—
  (Mr Parker) I think there is maybe one other area that needs to be considered, it is that the first interview would need to be an open narrative and that is not necessarily one that focuses in on particular issues. My view would be to have a first stage interview, which would be without interruption, to get as much open narrative as possible. And then analyse the product of that and then develop a statement strategy that would go in and look at inconsistencies that you are aware of from your analysis. And then ask more focused questions. So it is ethically challenging inconsistencies or areas of lacking credibility in what the witness has said in the second interview. Now the purpose of separating the two interviews would be to make sure that you are not contaminating any evidence in the first, fuller narrative, but then later on, using more direct questions to clear or clarify those inconsistencies.
  (Professor Gudjonsson) That brings us to repeated questioning, because when you talk about questions being repeated, they can be repeated within an interview or between interviews and there may be differences. But there is this whole area of repeat questioning. The child is asked, or the person is asked, the same question ten times. And then implicit in that is, "We do not believe you". There is an alternative. So repeated questioning can be quite dangerous except that you may need to check, obviously you want people to give a consistent account, you may ask people to give an account twice to make sure it is consistent. There is a lot of research on repeated questioning both within an interview and also between interviews and that can be potentially risky.
  (Mr Parker) That is why it needs to be a specialist activity, certainly in a more sensitive inquiry.


  1031. Am I right in thinking that in most of these cases of investigations of historic child abuse the interviews are not tape recorded, are they? Most of the ones that have taken place so far.
  (Mr Parker) If they are adults, there is no—

  1032. They are nearly all adults, I would think.
  (Mr Parker) No, there is no legal need to tape interviews. However, good practice would dictate—and certainly my unit, as a matter of good practice now, tape record first disclosures wherever possible, if that can be prepared for. And interviews, as a matter of good practice rather than direction or guidance, is that the substantive interview will be tape recorded.

  1033. But there have been more than 30 of these big inquiries now, I think. Am I right in thinking that—
  (Mr Parker) Practice varies.

  1034. Practice varies? So in some of them interviews with witnesses have been recorded and in others they have not?
  (Mr Parker) Yes.

  1035. My impression was that in most they had not.
  (Mr Parker) I cannot comment. I do not know the whole picture.

  1036. In the cases of which you are aware—
  (Dr Thompson) The six I did, they were not recorded.
  (Dr Boakes) As far as I know, not recorded.
  (Professor Gudjonsson) The one I mentioned, this Longcare Inquiry, the police did video record the interviews. So that is the one and I will leave some details for you.

  1037. Where did you say that involved? Buckinghamshire?
  (Professor Gudjonsson) Yes, that was the Buckinghamshire one. That was video recorded. There has been research published, not long ago, showing that if you look at victims' and witnesses' accounts and the way in which they are interviewed, the quality is substantially worse than if you look at suspects being interviewed. There is now a mandatory recording of suspects being interviewed, but if you compare the quality, that often the victims' and the witnesses' statements are not taken with the same care as those of suspects and I think that is something that needs to be changed.

  1038. Yes, thank you. Would any of you be in favour of introducing a time limit on the prosecution of these historic cases? 10, 20, 30 years?
  (Mr Parker) No.
  (Dr Thompson) I would not and I see no reason to introduce a time limit. If the system and the investigations are good investigations and it is good practice, I do not see why you should place a time limit on any criminal behaviour.

  1039. On the grounds, I suppose, that, as you said earlier, there is no hard evidence in any of these cases. By definition they are one set of allegations against another set of allegations.
  (Dr Thompson) You definitely have the problem where the evidence begins to disappear, but I would not stop anyone making an allegation against anyone. The real issue is not the fact that people make allegations, it is the fact how the allegation is dealt with that is the problem. And if you were to suddenly introduce a time limit, you might produce problems in certain circumstances. There is no reason, for example, why many of the care records actually should have been destroyed or were not there. They should have been kept centrally in that particular county or whatever. And that is not a question of time, that was a question of a decision to ditch a lot of evidential material or material that was useful to people.


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