As a professional investigator in the UK, one of your most important tasks is likely to be interviewing witnesses. Witness interviews can provide critical information that helps to solve a case, and the information gathered during these interviews can be used as evidence in court. However, interviewing witnesses can be a complex and delicate process.
In this article, we will discuss some techniques that professional investigators in the UK can use to conduct effective witness interviews.
Before conducting any witness interview, it is important to prepare thoroughly. This includes reviewing all available case materials, such as police reports, witness statements, and any other relevant documents. It is also important to identify any potential biases or motivations that a witness may have, as well as any potential areas of conflict. This information can help you to formulate effective questions and strategies for the interview.
2. Establishing Rapport:
Establishing rapport with a witness is critical to conducting an effective interview. This can be achieved by introducing yourself, explaining the purpose of the interview, and demonstrating empathy and understanding. It is important to create a comfortable and safe environment for the witness to share information. This can include offering refreshments and ensuring that the interview is conducted in a private space.
3. Active Listening:
Active listening is a key technique in conducting effective witness interviews. This involves paying close attention to what the witness is saying, asking follow-up questions, and clarifying any information that is unclear. It is important to avoid interrupting the witness or making assumptions about what they are saying. This can help to build trust and encourage the witness to provide more detailed and accurate information.
4. Open-Ended Questions:
When conducting witness interviews, it is important to use open-ended questions that allow the witness to provide detailed and specific information. Closed-ended questions, which can be answered with a simple yes or no, should be avoided as they limit the amount of information that a witness can provide. Open-ended questions can help to uncover important details that may not have been included in previous statements or reports.
5. Avoiding Leading Questions:
Leading questions should be avoided during witness interviews, as they can influence a witness's response and potentially undermine the reliability of their testimony. Leading questions are those that suggest a particular answer or include information that may bias the witness's response. Instead, questions should be neutral and objective, allowing the witness to provide their own perspective without any external influence.
6. Summarising and Confirming Information:
At the end of the witness interview, it is important to summarise the information that has been provided and confirm that you have accurately understood what the witness has said. This can help to ensure that there are no misunderstandings or miscommunications, and can also provide an opportunity for the witness to clarify any information that may have been unclear.
7. Non-Verbal Communication:
While the words a witness speaks are important, their non-verbal communication can also provide valuable information. As an investigator, it is important to pay attention to the witness's body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. These can provide clues about the witness's level of comfort, confidence, and honesty. It is important to be aware of your own non-verbal communication as well, as this can also influence the witness's responses.
8. Building Trust:
Building trust with a witness is essential to conducting an effective interview. This can be achieved by demonstrating empathy and understanding, being respectful, and maintaining confidentiality. It is important to avoid making promises that cannot be kept or pressuring the witness to provide certain information. By building trust, the witness may be more likely to provide accurate and detailed information.
9. Adapting to the Witness's Communication Style:
Every witness is unique, and their communication style may vary. As an investigator, it is important to adapt your communication style to suit the witness's preferences. For example, some witnesses may be more comfortable providing information in a conversational style, while others may prefer a more formal interview setting. By adapting to the witness's communication style, you can help to create a more comfortable and productive environment for the interview.
10. Documenting the Interview:
After conducting a witness interview, it is important to document the information that has been gathered. This can include a written statement or a recording of the interview. It is important to accurately document the witness's responses, as this information may be used as evidence in court. It is also important to maintain the confidentiality of the information gathered, and to ensure that it is stored securely.
In conclusion, effective witness interviews are a critical component of any investigation. By preparing thoroughly, establishing rapport, actively listening, using open-ended questions, avoiding leading questions, summarising, and confirming information, paying attention to non-verbal communication, building trust, adapting to the witness's communication style, and documenting the interview, investigators can gather accurate and reliable information that can help to solve cases and provide evidence in court. These techniques require practice and skill, but can be honed over time through experience and training.
Tony Imossi – Secretariat@theABI.org.uk