IT was in the mid 1990’s when I had a ‘road to Damascus moment’ and realised how radical the changes to the criminal justice system were in relation to the support offered to child witnesses.
The ‘Memorandum of Good Practice on Video with Child Witnesses for Criminal Proceedings’ a joint Home Office/Department of Health document was published in 1992. It provided guidance to police officers and social workers responsible for undertaking video-recorded interview with child victims or witnesses. The document outlined core principles to be followed when conducting interviews and the videos produced could then be played in court to spare the child the necessity of giving live evidence-in-chief.
No longer were children expected to provide a statement like adults. Children involved in incidents of violence, abduction, neglect or sexual offences could now be supported in giving their account within a calm and more supportive environment.
On that particular day I had spent the afternoon interviewing two children aged eight and ten years. They had witnessed their father murder their mother that same morning. With careful questioning the children each provided detailed accounts that were totally compelling and obviously true. They also unwittingly, in the midst of all the information they had shared with me, provided the answer to that most tricky question in an investigation – motive.
As for the children themselves – both said they felt better having explained what they had seen. I believe that explaining to someone who took time to listen and who supported them tell it ‘as they remembered it’ helped them make some sort of sense of a terrible and ultimately senseless situation.
Ultimately the video recorded evidence of the children was used in the trial of their father, he was found guilty of murder. The quality of the recorded evidence was commented on by the Judge. I was told that the jury had been in tears whilst watching the children’s account. It was powerful stuff!
Today the support offered to those children has been extended under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 and is available for all ‘vulnerable witnesses’ in the Crown Court and for ‘intimidated’ complainants in serious sexual offences.
However the advantage of obtaining these recorded accounts is far greater than simply the support it affords the witness and the effectiveness is not limited to criminal proceedings. The strength of it is in the process itself and the quality of the information it produces.
The recording of interviews with vulnerable or intimidated witnesses is now governed by the Home Office publication ‘Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings’. It is this process and the techniques advocated as best practice that is the strength of the Achieving Best Evidence (A.B.E.) interview.
The A.B.E. interview supports the gathering of as much relevant information as possible in a manner which is:-
Enabling of the interviewee
Meets the most stringent of forensic requirements
Transparent and open to scrutiny
Time effective – most interviews are concluded within an hour.
The advantages extend further than the obtaining of the information.
Once the information is captured on DVD it is far easier to assess than the simple written – usually by a third party – word. Being able to see and hear, what and how things are said, allows for a far deeper insight into the quality of the information. And of course once an account is recorded in this way it makes it far harder for an individual to ‘go bandit’.
So having developed a passion for interviewing and retired from the Police I decided to carry on with the work. I invested in portable recording equipment which meets Home Office technical requirements and gives me scope to travel to the client. I carry out interviews away from the established; usually Police or Social Services based facilities and provide an independent service. My aim is to support investigations or enquiries by obtaining detailed accounts across a range of incidents and to provide training in interview skills.
The ABE method of interviewing refined and developed from the basic PEACE model
Planning and preparation
Engage and explain
Account, clarify, challenge
is I believe the gold standard of interviewing. But please don’t think this is just ‘soft’ stuff. I prefer to think of it as an iron fist in a velvet glove, using your head whilst being emotionally aware. It is simply the most effective and forensically acceptable way of obtaining quality information.
Would this be useful in the world of the security industry? My knowledge of your world is gleaned from the television and cinema so I can’t answer that. All I can say is if you don’t know about A.B.E. style interviews, it is probably worth taking a look.
Vicky Horn spent 30 years as a Police Officer specialising in child and vulnerable adult abuse investigations and interviewing offenders of serious crime. Since retiring in 2008 she has established Specialist Interviewing Services Ltd to carry out recorded interviews with witnesses and provide training in interview skills. She is based in the North West and travels the
country to carry out her work.
She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org or
speak to her on +44 (0) 7723 456603