How To Achieve A Higher Standard In Statement Taking

We’re going to repost our guidance around statement-taking again on the blog this month because once more we’re left completely aghast at the standard of evidence-capturing through statements and interviews that we’re experiencing and having to redo on behalf of our solicitor clients or commercial clients.

In most of the incidents we’ve been called in on over the last three months alone, its because our clients have been presented with interview transcripts or statements obtained that are woefully below the evidential standard needed to see through a clean and just result. And the most maddening thing is that the interviewers and statement-takers are often HR professionals or retired police officers.

Our background in policing and justice studies along with years of experience in interviewing and compiling statements for civil and criminal court puts us confidently in the position of knowing what is required to make the statement and the time it took to record worth its existence. We work with a variety of clients throughout Newcastle and Tyne & Wear, professionally interviewing and recording evidentially sound statements under a multitude of circumstances that can range from employer/employee disputes and road traffic collisions through to litigation cases and victim of crime impact assessments.

However, when it comes to knowing what is required to make a statement worth its existence and evidentially sound, you’d be amazed how many don’t know or are phoning it in, especially in an age where predominantly a) employers outsource their HR requirements to people without live, real-world experience in interviewing and b) police officers rush through the basic recording of fact(s) because they’re understaffed and overworked or have grown complacent in what they do.

We are continually now being brought in to correct and rectify statements or from-the-ground-up re-interview someone because the client has received a transcription or a signed statement that tells them nothing or has gaping, uncovered holes that leave their case exposed.

We’re becoming more and more shocked that the basic foundations of a recorded interview and subsequent statement are not being remotely touched upon.

What are those basic foundations?

  1. Receiving someone’s version of events for the purpose of seeking facts for whatever reason – an insurance investigation, a disciplinary, a crime report – needs to be treat like the structuring of a story: It needs to have a start, a middle and an end.
  2. With that in mind you need to treat the ‘start’ like Act I which we like to call the “context”, the ‘middle’ Act II which we call the “narrative” and the end like Act III which is the “impact” or “conclusion”.
  3. Every comment made by the interviewee will carry facts. The interviewer needs to be the judge as to what level these facts are relevant to the investigation they are carrying out and guide the interview accordingly. But, most importantly, each stated ‘fact’ needs to be robustly squeezed of the maximum amount of detail. (If the interviewee is being spoken to about a car accident and they mention the make and model of their vehicle, is that enough to record and move on? What colour was it? What was the registration? Did it have any pre-existing damage or modifications prior to the accident? Where did they get the vehicle from, what year, etc.? Was it fully taxed, insured and MOT’d up-to-date? And so on.)
  4. At the heart of every statement or interview you are seeking facts specific to proving or disproving a particular narrative – Was a crime committed? Did an incident occur as suggested? Has a fraud occurred? And with that comes the inarguable reality that there is a consistent spine of ‘points to prove’ running through the centre of all of this and the questions asked/information sought should always focus on or focus back round on this. For example: You’re taking a statement from a victim of a theft so an awareness of what theft is at its base legal level is required in order to ascertain the ‘points to prove’. From there the foundation of the statement/interview builds out on a) has there been “dishonest appropriation” b) did the stolen goods “belong to another” c) was there an “intention to permanently deprive” the other of it? And so on. At its most basic level the interview/statement MUST cover these areas.

More and more and more we’re coming across witness statements or interview transcriptions where interviewees have been allowed to talk aimlessly and pointlessly for 45+ minutes with no clear focus on all events getting covered where needed, where there is no clear structure to the conversation and where rather startlingly no “points to prove” have been established in the majority or sometimes even at all.

Here at Surmount Investigations we interview in line with the requirements of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 and we try wherever possible, with the interviewees agreement, to audibly record all interviews under all circumstances for all cases. Copies of the recordings or transcriptions of the recordings are provided to the client.

It feels like such a basic thing to say but yet you’ll be surprised how few adhere to this but:

If an interviewer sits down for a ‘see where it goes’ conversation with an interviewee and has not properly planned for the interview prior to the interview taking place than the interview should never take place at all.