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Writer's Profile
Grace Fleming

Specialised Subjects

Criminology, Physiology, Quantitative Methods

Throughout my 11-year career as a researcher and policy advisor I conducted and managed a wide variety of research projects, delivered countless presentations and wrote a range of reports for both policy makers and practitioners. Prior to this I obtained a first class degree in Psychology, followed by a MPhil in Criminology from Cambridge University. During my full time government career I also embarked on a part-time PhD in forensic psychology. Late last year I jumped at the opportunity of voluntary redundancy from central government to complete my PhD. I have recently submitted this and am now embarking on an academic career in lecturing and research. I am committed to both my own and others development and look forward to applying my skills and experience to help others succeed.

An analysis of suspect behaviour during police interview for serious crimes.

Chapter 1: Introduction

The Background to this Research
In the past thirty years police interviewing in the UK has advanced considerably. High profile miscarriages of justice (e.g. the Birmingham Six), legislative changes (e.g. the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984), the introduction of formalised training packages (e.g. PEACE1), and some large scale studies of interviewing practice (Irving & Mckenzie, 1989; Baldwin, 1992; Moston, Stephenson, & Williamson, 1992) have all contributed to this. As a result, using manipulative and oppressive tactics in an interview or viewing the sole purpose of an interview as a means of gaining a confession is no longer considered acceptable.

Since 1986, when the recording of interviews with suspects became mandatory, the police interview finally became more accessible to the research community. One of the first influential research studies post-tape recording was that of Baldwin (1993) who examined in detail the way in which interviews with suspects were conducted in the late 1980s. He concluded that the majority of the interviewing officers he listened to “could not be described as good interviewers” (Baldwin, 1993, p. 350). Since then, much research has focused on the skills required by an effective interviewer (Bull & Cherryman, 1996; Cherryman & Bull, 2001; Walsh & Bull, 2010), the training of interviewers (Clarke & Milne, 2001; Clarke, Milne, & Bull, 2011; Griffiths & Milne, 2006), and an exploration of the questioning techniques or tactics used by interviewers during an interview (e.g. Moston & Engleberg, 1993; Soukara, Bull, Vrij, Turner, & Cherryman, 2009). However, there is limited research examining suspect behaviour and, with the exception of Pearse and Gudjonnson’s (1999) study (which examined a small sample of 18 interviews), no studies have focused specifically on serious crime suspects. Where suspect behaviour has been observed this is usually limited to whether the suspect confessed to the crime in question (e.g. Moston, Stephenson, & Williamson, 1992; Pearse & Gudjonsson, 1999; Holmberg & Christianson, 2002). Some research has examined the dialogue between the suspect and interviewer during an interview, but the nature of this enquiry has largely involved a case-study approach, thereby examining just one or two actual interviews (e.g. Baxter, Bain, & McAusland, 2007; Benneworth, 2009; Newbury & Johnson, 2006).

Scope of the Research
This aim of the research to be reported in this thesis is to describe in as much detail as possible the police interviewing of serious crime suspects, with a specific focus on who is being interviewed. It explores the nature of the suspect and interviewer exchange and the potential associations between this exchange and the characteristics of the case. How this knowledge might contribute to our understanding of an effective investigative interview with serious crime suspects is considered.

Focus on Serious Crime Suspects
This research focuses only on suspects in serious crime enquiries. Suspects in such enquiries have been selected for a number of reasons. First, these crimes cause a great deal of concern for both the police and general public. In terms of the police such enquiries can often be difficult to solve and consequently demand greater resources. In-depth and rigorous research is therefore crucial to improving the effectiveness and efficiency of such investigations. Secondly, due to their seriousness, such offences are likely to have resulted in a wealth of information that has been recorded and retained prior to interview. In an effort to understand more about the processes involved in interviewing, these cases, whilst relatively rare, often offer much in the way of detailed information. Furthermore, interviews with serious crime suspects are likely to be more complex than in minor crime and will likely involve lengthier interviews. This allows therefore for a more detailed insight into the interviewing process.

The term ‘serious crime’ encompasses a number of different crimes including murder, terrorism, and sexual offences. For the purposes of this thesis, cases in which individuals have been interviewed as suspects for murder (or attempted murder), a serious sexual offence or other serious assault have been included. These crimes form the bulk of what is known as serious crime and therefore research into these will potentially have the greatest benefit.

Structure of the Thesis
The new research to be reported here draws on two key elements: views of practising police interviewers and real-life audio-taped serious crime suspect interviews2.

The main part of the thesis opens with a discussion of what characterises an effective interview from the perspective of the police interviewers who conduct them (Chapter 2). It is intended that this will form a ‘baseline’ from which the findings from the actual interviews with suspects are compared. That chapter, along with most others, starts with a review of the literature and includes a summary of the methodology employed.

Since the bulk of the research to be presented centres on analyses of real-life interviews, Chapter 3 has been dedicated to describing the approach to data collection and analyses of these interviews.

Chapter 4 and Chapters 6 through 9 report on the findings from the analysis of these interviews. This includes chapters on: the procedures followed (Chapter 4); the behaviour of suspects (Chapter 6); the strategies employed to get suspects to talk (Chapter 7); the types of questions used (Chapter 8); and the contribution of third parties (Chapter 9). Chapter 5 is dedicated to a review of the literature associated with maximising the effectiveness of interviews, and thereby sets the scene for the bulk of the analyses that follow.

The concluding chapter (Chapter 10) summarises the findings, highlights key implications arising from the research and suggests areas that could benefit from further work. This final chapter also includes a discussion of the challenges associated with collecting data of this nature, which it is intended will be of use to other researchers in this field.


1 PEACE is an acronym for a training model adopted by police forces in England and Wales: Planning and preparation, Engage and explain, Account, Closure, and Evaluation. See Chapters 2 for more detail.
2Reference to the research sample of real-life audio-taped serious crime suspect interviews will, for brevity, be referred to as ‘interviews’ or ‘taped-interviews’ throughout the thesis.