‘Show me what happened’: Low technology communication aids used in intermediary mediated police investigative interviews with vulnerable witnesses with an intellectual disability

AuthorTina Pereira,Michelle Aldridge
Published date01 January 2023
Date01 January 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Show me what happened:
Low technology communication
aids used in intermediary mediated
police investigative interviews
with vulnerable witnesses with
an intellectual disability
Tina Pereira
City, University of London, UK
Michelle Aldridge
Cardiff University, UK
This study investigates the manner in which two types of communication aids (wooden
mannequins and line drawings) that are selected, introduced and managed in real intermedi-
ary-mediated police investigative interviews, improve the quality of evidence with vulnerable
witnesses and victims with an intellectual disability. Multimodality interactional work carried
out by the interviewing police off‌icer, an intermediary and the vulnerable witness with limited
verbal abilities to answer the open question, What happened?is analysed. We demonstrate
that low technology communication aids can successfully be utilised to elicit the same type
of information from those with limited verbal abilities, as the verbal open question What hap-
pened?, in an unrehearsed and unbiased manner. Aids used in this manner retain the function-
ality of open questions while reducing their linguistic complexity. This validates the importance
of adopting special measures such as the involvement of an intermediary and communication
aids in investigative interviews to promote equal opportunities and a fair trial for all.
intellectual disability, intermediaries, investigative interviews, low technology communication
aids, vulnerable witness
Corresponding author:
Tina Pereira, Division of Language and Communication Sciences, City University of London, London, UK.
Email: Tina.Pereira@city.ac.uk
The International Journal of Evidence & Proof
2023, Vol. 27(1) 83104
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/13657127221140469
Background and introduction
The goal of a police-witness
investigative interview is to elicit evidence to ascertain the witnesss
account of the alleged event(s) and any other information that would assist the investigation
(Ministry of Justice, 2011: 10). These interviews typically consist of a police interviewing off‌icer (IO)
asking a series of verbal questions with the interviewee verbally responding (Tracy and Robles,
2009). Research has consistently demonstrated that open questions that invite an unrestricted answer, typ-
ically led by TED (i.e., tell, explain, describe) are effective as they allow the witness to give rich detail
(Lamb et al., 1996: 634; Sternberg et al., 1996: 447) of the incident in a non-leading manner, in their own
words, without interruption from the polices agenda and possible preconceptions of the interviewer
(Cederborg and Lamb, 2008; Dent and Stephenson, 1979; Grant et al., 2016; Lamb et al., 1996;
Sternberg et al., 1996). Where vulnerable witnesses (VW), including those with an intellectual disability,
are concerned, the interview typically follows the guidance set out in the Achieving Best Evidence (ABE)
guidelines in England and Wales (Ministry of Justice, 2011, 2022), which advise that the interviewer
should initiate an uninterrupted free narrative account of the incident/event(s), using an open-ended invi-
tation before more specif‌ic questions are introduced.
Traditionally, our criminal justice system, the adversarial system, has been grounded in speech and
very often, particularly when there is no material evidence, the trial is dependent on whose verbal
account is more persuasive to the jury. This war of wordsimmediately disadvantages interviewees,
such as those discussed here, who may not have the linguistic competence to (fully) give their evidence
through the aural-oral modality. Such interviewees typically f‌ind the complexity of verbal open questions
challenging to understand (Perlman et al., 1994) and have problems paying attention, thereby losing track
of the topic or question (Milne and Bull, 2006) resulting in a loss of intersubjectivity. As a coping strat-
egy, VWs might well acquiesce with the interviewer (Gudjonsson, 1990). Similarly, VWs tend to have
more limited verbal strategies to express complex ideas coherently (Brennan and Brennan, 1994; Kebbell
and Hatton, 1999; Milne and Bull, 2001; Murphy and Clare, 2006), resulting in lack of rich detailin
answers to investigation relevant questions (Fisher and Geiselman, 2010; Milne and Bull, 2001,
2006). All these characteristics have the potential to negatively impact the quality of a VWs evidence
in interview.
That does not mean, of course, that VWs have not experienced abuse nor that they cannot remember it;
the issue may well be that they experience challenges in communicating what has happened and/or the IO
experiences challenges in effectively adapting their approach to meet the communication needs of VWs.
Acknowledging this inequality, the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act was enacted. This Act
made provision for a range of special measures (i.e., reasonable adjustments) that could enable vulnerable
witnesses, such as VWs, equitable access within the criminal justice system in England and Wales. One
measure (s. 30) is the use of communication aids, and another (s. 29) is the examination of a witness
through an intermediary (INT). An intermediary is a communication specialist who, since 2004, has
been allowed to legally enable communication between a VW and the police at investigative interviews
and/or during a trial at court. Intermediaries f‌irst assess VWs to identify their communication strengths
and challenges and, based on their detailed professional judgement, may then suggest alternative ways of
communicating during the proceedings (Plotnikoff and Woolfson, 2015) such as using communication
aids like wooden mannequins and line drawings.
The rationale for using communication aids to help VWs answer questions is that while their aural-oral
communication diff‌iculties are well reported, they typically present with better visual processing skills
(Cherry et al., 2002; Dulaney and Ellis, 1991) and are often concrete thinkers. They thus respond
1. From the perspective of investigative interviewing guidance, alleged victims are included in the overarching term witness,as
they are individuals who have been witness to an allegation.
84 The International Journal of Evidence & Proof 27(1)

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT