Evidential interviewing, eyewitness identification and interrogation: establishing protocols and training practitioners for proper capture and preservation of memory
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Leicester
Unit of AssessmentPsychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Summary Impact TypeLegal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Studies In Human Society: Criminology
Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: Psychology
Summary of the impact
Changes to the law in the early 1990s removed the need for corroborating
or physical evidence in abuse cases and allowed videotaped evidence of a
child or other vulnerable witnesses to be used in a criminal court. This
necessitated the drawing up of guidance to help police officers and other
judicial practitioners, gather crucial evidence while minimising
unintentional influence. Research at Leicester has underpinned work to
assess and improve the effectiveness of this guidance and to create a
framework of procedural best practice. This has influenced and directed
the formation of protocols and training development of practitioners for
uniform, fair and reliable investigative interviewing of vulnerable
witnesses and for accurate identification and interrogative interviewing
of suspects in the UK and through the sharing of best practice, across the
UK and internationally.
Over twenty years, the School of Psychology has conducted research and
built up expertise in many aspects of forensic psychology, including
eyewitness testimony and identification, face recognition and perception
of criminality, interviewing vulnerable witnesses, memory and recovered
memory, suggestibility and compliance, along with psychological profiling.
In the late 80s, increasing public concern about the high number of
sexual abuse cases involving child witnesses that were not successfully
prosecuted, as well as severe criticism of police and social services for
the use of inappropriate investigative techniques, led to a change to the
UK Criminal Justice Act of 1991, allowing a child's testimony to be
video-recorded and used as a substitute for live examination at trial.
Guidance in conducting video-recorded interviews with children under the
age of 14 for violent offences and under the age of 17 for sexual offences
was published by the Home Office and Department of Health in 1992. This
Memorandum of Good Practice owed much to the experience of Professor
Graham Davies, a member of the Steering Committee, in researching and
facilitating children's evidence in court. His evaluation of the effects
of this change in legislation (with research assistant Claire Wilson)
showed that the use of video technology reduced the levels of stress of
child witnesses but did not increase conviction rates (1).
Evaluation of protocols and techniques for interviewing vulnerable
In 1997, Davies (with PhD student Helen Westcott) collaborated with
researchers from the US National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development on an evaluation of the quality of investigative interviews in
England and Wales since implementation of the MOGP. The research found
that interviewers seldom used open-ended utterances to elicit information,
instead relying heavily (40%) on option-posing and suggestive prompts,
known to elicit less reliable information (2). Davies led the
writing team in 2001 when MOGP was replaced by Achieving Best Evidence in
Criminal Proceedings (ABE) for use in interviewing children under 17,
regardless of the offence involved, and for interviews with vulnerable or
intimidated adults (revised in 2007 and 2011).
Professor Ray Bull's research in this area demonstrated that the findings
of psychological research are very relevant to good interviewer
performance and can have a profound positive influence on `what works' in
the investigative interviewing of vulnerable witnesses (3). In
2008, Bull and Dr Robyn Holliday looked at the interviewing of older
adults, who represent a special group of witnesses and victims of criminal
acts. The research built on Holliday's previous findings that if
modifications were made for developmental appropriateness, children as
young as 4 years old could provide accurate testimony. It showed that a
specially adapted cognitive interview increased the reporting of correct
information even in the oldest age group, and that a specially designed
interview could help older adults resist accepting misinformation about a
witnessed crime (4).
Research into identification and interviewing of suspects
Dr Heather Flowe's work examines the adoption of sequential over
traditional simultaneous line-ups as a means of reducing false
identifications of innocent suspects. The unit was among the first to
employ eyetracking to assess how people visually analyse line-up faces.
Flowe's studies found that line-up member similarity, previously thought
not to affect accuracy in sequential line-ups, influences accuracy in both
types of line-ups, and that eyewitnesses given a sequential line-up are
more likely to pay attention to the external features of faces (jaw line,
hair; 5). Current research is looking at police protocols for
interviewing intoxicated eyewitnesses, particularly sexual assault
Dr Julian Boon has studied individuals who `fake bad' (exaggerate their
psychopathology) on psychological tests such as the Gudjonsson
Suggestibility Scales (GSS's), which measure how susceptible a person is
to coercive interrogation, for instrumental gain in certain forensic and
clinical contexts. The findings support the view that participants
attempting to "fake bad" on the GSS were successful in doing so on the
principal suggestibility measures of the test. They also indicate that
there may be potential in coding for additional information that can
reveal `red flags' with which to unmask these attempts (6).
Leicester: Professor Graham Davies, Emeritus Professor (1989 - 2006);
Prof Ray Bull, Emeritus Professor (2004 - 2012), Helen Westcott,
PhD student (1989 - 1996), Clare Wilson, Research Assistant (1992 - 1996),
Dr Robyn Holliday, senior lecturer (2008-present), Dr Julian Boon, senior
lecturer (1993 - present), Dr Heather Flowe, lecturer (2008-present).
Other: Dr Rebecca Milne (University of Portsmouth), Professor
Amina Memon (Royal Holloway, London) and Dr Lynsey Gozna (University of
References to the research
1. Davies, G. M. (1999). The impact of television on the presentation and
reception of children's evidence. International Journal of Law and
Psychiatry. 22: 241-256.
2. Sternberg, K. J., Lamb, M. E., Davies, G. M. & Westcott, H. L.
(2001). The `Memorandum of Good Practice: Theory versus practice. Child
Abuse and Neglect'. 25: 669-681.
3. Bull, R. (2010) The investigative interviewing of children and other
vulnerable witnesses: Psychological research and working/professional
practice. Legal and Criminological Psychology. 15(1): 5-23. DOI:
4. Holliday, R.E., Humphries, J.E., Milne, R., Memon, A., Houlder, L.,
Lyons, A., & Bull, R. (2012). Reducing misinformation effects in older
adults with Cognitive Interview mnemonics. Psychology & Aging.
6. Boon, J.C.W., Gozna, L.F. and Hall, S. (2008). Detecting 'faking bad'
on the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scales. Personality and Individual
Differences. 44: 263-272.
Home Office Research and Planning Unit: Evaluation of new provisions for
child witnesses (1992-1994). £141,000
National Institute for Mental Health (USA): Study of the quality of
investigative interviews conducted with child complainants of sexual abuse
Levershulme Trust: Interviewing the older eyewitness: out of sight but
not out of mind? (2008). £26,254.
Details of the impact
Until the early 1990s, the techniques used by police officers when
interviewing witnesses were largely unobserved — and therefore not open to
rigorous scrutiny. The introduction of video recordings in 1991 put the
quality of evidential interviews in the spotlight. Both the original 1992
MOGP and 2001 ABE were influenced by the findings of research carried out
at Leicester and are considered to have been enormously influential in
guiding the practice of evidential interviewers in the UK and around the
world, helping them to achieve better, more robust evidence from
interviews involving challenging circumstances (A). Revisions in
the 2007 and 2011 editions were influenced by the unit's continuing
research, particularly on cognitive interviewing techniques.
`Staggering improvement' in interviewing techniques
The National Policing Improvement Agency's Vulnerable Witness Adviser,
says that there has been a "staggering improvement" in interview
techniques and practice since the late 1980s. "Before these guidelines
were drawn up, interviewers relied on one chapter of a police manual,
which basically said: "Don't ask leading questions." Graham and Ray's work
was the first to create an interview structure and a set of techniques for
evidential interviewing which are still used today." (A).
Although the documents apply to practice in England and Wales, they have
been used as the basis for similar guidance in Scotland and Northern
Ireland. Their influence has spread internationally: while differing
judicial systems require their own set of rules, countries such as France
and the US have incorporated the core standards into their own guidance.
Sharing best practice around the world
Practitioners in the UK have also shared these standards with
prosecutors, judges, social workers, police officers and NGOs working in
countries where evidential interviewing of children is less established
than in Europe and North America. The Lead Officer for the Association of
Chief Police Officers (ACPO) on child protection and sex offenders from
1989 to 2001, has worked on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
in Malaysia, Jordan, Cuba, Costa Rica, Belize, the Dominican Republic,
Chile and Argentina. He says: "This training and guidance is directly
underpinned by the research at Leicester." (B). Projects in 2012
included changing procedures and practices for interviewing child
witnesses in Chile in collaboration with the police force; and working
with an NGO in Argentina on integrating the activities of police and
others in the criminal justice system into a more coherent approach to the
investigation of allegations of child sexual abuse.
In his training of practitioners, including 12 psychologists from the
provinces of Tucuman, Jujuy and Formosa, Argentina, in the theory and
practice of interviewing child victims and witnesses, The ACPO Officer
uses the book Tell Me What Happened, part of a series called The
Psychology of Crime, Policing and Law, edited by Davies and Bull (C).
He says: "They are written in accessible language suitable for
practitioners and I carry copies with me all over the world.''
Expert testimony in court
Based upon their research, members of the unit are called upon five or
six times a year each to provide expert testimony in family law and
criminal law courts across the UK, Channel Islands and Republic of
Ireland. Dr Robyn Holliday reviews around 30 hours of videotaped evidence
a year to assess whether an interview has been conducted appropriately —
that no suggestive prompts are made, that questions are age-appropriate
and that the witness understands the difference between the truth and a
Improving eyewitness identification procedures
Dr Heather Flowe's work on identification procedures informed the New
York State's District Attorneys and all of the state's police agencies'
voluntary adoption of the New York State Identification Procedure
Guidelines for the showing of photo arrays and line-ups to witnesses of
crimes in 2010 (D). The guidelines spell out how to compose a fair
photo array or line-up so that the suspect does not stand out in a way
that could encourage an incorrect identification.
Flowe has been asked to testify in numerous trials, including that of
[text removed for publication], whose conviction for first-degree murder
was based on an eyewitness's testimony. She was commended for her ability
to "relate the subject to common, real-life experiences." (E)
Flowe's training courses on identification procedures, in December 2012,
for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office were both live (two 2-hour
sessions attended by 100 attorneys) and online, a version of which was
distributed to 500 Assistant DAs, who handle 100,000 criminal cases each
year, as well as the New York Prosecutors' Training Institute, so DAs from
across the state could access it. The training includes discussion of the
impact of inaccurate identifications on wrongful convictions as well as
the importance of avoiding inadvertent influences.
Psychological support in `most grave and challenging'
Dr Julian Boon is one of only two external psychological profilers used
by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA, now NCA) and other police
forces in need of expert psychological support in their investigations,
which tend to be of the "most grave and challenging nature". (F) He
helps the police to understand what kind of person could commit an
appalling act and how such traits might manifest themselves in everyday
routines. Boon has provided advice on a number of high-profile cases such
as [text removed for publication]. The former Commander of the
Metropolitan Police Service, explains the "true great value" of profiling:
"There might be fifty suspects. Homing in on the right one sooner rather
than later can save weeks of investigation at anything around £50,000 a
week and upwards, in some cases it can truncate a series of rapes, and in
some cases it can save lives. After arrest, an understanding of psychology
can be of great assistance in constructing an interview strategy and a
court cross examination strategy. This can increase prospects of
conviction [although] no measurement [has been] attempted."
Boon also trains 30 senior police officers and counter-terrorism experts
in advanced interrogative interviewing techniques. He conducts risk
assessments in prisons of violent offenders for the Parole Board, using
his clinical judgement and a psychometric assessment to determine how
successfully (bona fide or pretending) they have responded to treatment
programmes and whether they are safe to be released into Category D open
conditions or the community. He gives evidence in a number of court cases
a year at all levels (Magistrate's, Crown and Royal) on the influence of
suggestibility and/or compliance in relation to interviewing and
reliability, commenting on whether the interviewing style is likely to
have caused the interviewee to have given unreliable evidence at any
Sources to corroborate the impact
A. Transcribed interview with Vulnerable Witness Adviser, National
Policing Improvement Agency.
B. Transcribed interview with Lead Officer for the Association of Chief
Police Officers (ACPO) on child protection and sex offenders.
C. Westcott, H. L., Davies, G. M. & Bull, R. (2001). Child witness
handbook: Psychological research and forensic practice; Lamb, M. E.,
Hershkowitz, I., Orbach, Y., & Esplin, P. W. (2008) Tell me what
happened: Structured investigative interviews of child victims and
witnesses; and M. E. Lamb, D. J. La Rooy, L., C. Malloy and C. Katz (eds.)
(2011) Children's Testimony: A Handbook of Psychological Research and
D. New York Law Journal: Police, District Attorneys Unveil Statewide
Identification Procedures by Kristine Hamann. 14 December 2010
E. Letter from Salt Lake County District Attorney.
F. Letter from former Commander, Metropolitan Police Service.