This post/blog reaches no conclusion or answer to the above question, it cannot as the author had no involvement in the investigation or access to strategy documents or case papers (in common with many others making public comment), only those with intimate knowledge of Operation Midland know the answer.
What it can do is highlight the grave error of judgement by several highly influential leaders in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) who advocate ‘automatic belief’ of those reporting serious sexual offending with little or limited knowledge of the skill of investigating with the catastrophic cost to life and miscarriage of justice.
It can place on record the authors experience of a very similar case and maybe go some way to prevent other lives and reputations being sullied as they were in this case and that of other ‘celebrity’ investigations as subsequently reinforced by the judgement of HHJ Henriques in his review.
It is in no small way, a personal testimony to the recently deceased Dr James Ost and his work on ‘False and Reconstructed Memories’, surely considered by the ‘Midland’ team when faced with the escalating and increasingly extreme allegations made by Beech.
There follows selected excerpts from the work of Dr Ost and others, and a case study (Anna) by the author that bears an uncanny similarity to that of Beech reported by the media; before which let’s take a look at the principles that underpin forensic investigative interviewing.
ACPO endorsed the 7 principles of investigative interviewing in 2008, principles that were entrenched in policing many years before Beech but embraced inconsistently by the 40+ police forces in England and Wales.
- The aim of investigative interviewing is to obtain accurate and reliable accounts from victims, witnesses or suspects about matters under police investigation
- Investigators must act fairly when questioning victims, witnesses or suspects. Vulnerable people must be treated with particular consideration at all times
- Investigative Interviewing should be approached with an investigative mindset. Accounts obtained from the person who is being interviewed should always be tested against what the interviewer already knows or what can reasonably be established
- When conducting an interview, investigators are free to ask a wide range of questions in order to obtain material which may assist an investigation
- Investigators should recognise the positive impact of an early admission in the context of the criminal justice system
- Investigators are not bound to accept the first answer given. Questioning is not unfair merely because it is persistent
- Even when the right of silence is exercised by a suspect, investigators have a responsibility to put questions to them
As we move to explore the fragilities of memory the irony of corporate amnesia and false memory shouldn’t be underestimated. Midland took place against a background of politically motivated clamour for results, austerity and decline in policing standards. Indeed, policing business ‘leads’ were actively devaluing investigation standards and competencies, particularly the craft of investigative interviewing, long under- invested in by ‘The Met’ and many other police forces.
Let’s take a look at some heavily edited publications by Dr Ost.
Suggestibility in Legal Contexts (© 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2013 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.)
Recovered Memories and Suggestibility for Entire Events (James Ost Chapter 6)
“Life is a continuous play of adaptation between changing response and varying environment … Remembering is a function of daily life, and must have developed so as to meet the demands of daily life” (Bartlett, 1932, p. 16).
It was known as the ‘recovered/false memory controversy’ and started in North America in the mid-1980s and made its way across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom. The controversy surrounded alleged episodes of childhood sexual abuse that were remembered by adults. Sometimes these claims were made after a period of therapy during which the individual ‘recovered’ memories of such abuse. In most cases, the individuals claimed to have had a significant period of non-awareness of the occurrence of the abuse (the argument was that the trauma of the abuse had led the individual to ‘repress’ or ‘dissociate’ all memory of it happening). As one might expect the accused (often the individual’s parents) strenuously denied any wrongdoing. In some cases the accused was the subject of both civil and criminal proceedings. Professionals were divided over whether these claims of abuse were based on genuine repressed memories that had been recovered by careful therapeutic intervention, or whether they were false memories induced, in part, by suggestive and inappropriate therapeutic techniques. Partly due to the paucity of direct evidence at the time, psychologists became engaged in something of a turf war concerning the status of these contested abuse claims (see Brainerd & Reyna, 2005; McNally, 2003; Ost).
Conclusions and Forensic Implications
• What appear to be newly remembered (i.e. recovered) memories of past trauma are sometimes accurate, sometimes inaccurate, and sometimes a mixture of accuracy and inaccuracy (Wright, Ost & French, 2006);
• There is no convincing evidence that individuals can repress, dissociate or otherwise selectively ‘block out’ memories of traumatic experiences – not disclosing a history of trauma is different from not remembering a history of trauma (McNally, 2003);
• There is evidence that individuals will come to believe, remember and, in some cases, act on events that were suggested to them as part of psychological experiments (Laney Et al. 2008);
• In the absence of independent corroboration, reports of past trauma based on recovered memories are not reliable enough to be the sole basis for legal decisions.
Case Study ‘Anna’ (Redacted)
In 2005, at the age of 40, Anna sought therapy to help her deal with depression following the loss of a high- powered job as a lawyer. At the start of therapy she had no memories of being sexually abused in childhood. When that course of therapy ended, Anna sent a letter to her mother claiming that she had remembered being sexually assaulted as a child. In that letter she accused her father of sexually abusing her when an infant, and that the abuse was responsible for her depression. After a short break, Anna started a course of therapy to help her deal with having been a victim of childhood sexual abuse. Over the following 2 years more details were volunteered, including sexual abuse perpetrated by her brother and local civic leaders. She went on to report escalating allegations of horrific physical and sexual abuse of multiple child victims, extending to murders, decapitation, satanic rituals, and disposal of human remains. She submitted a claim for criminal injuries compensation. Her sister, who Anna claimed was also systematically abused by the same perpetrators, denied any knowledge of the events that Anna said she now remembered. Anna decided to formally report members of her extended family and others to the police.
Had Anna been ‘automatically believed’ in line with the stance advocated by Sirs BHH and TW the immediate lines of inquiry would likely include:
- Seizure and preservation of a crime scene long since occupied by ‘new’ owners
- Re-housing of current owners
- Excavation of extensive private residences
- Closure and examination of a specified ‘public space’
- Arrest of several high-profile individuals (now elderly and vulnerable)
with all the attendant collateral and reputational damage and cost.
Alternatively, the structured model of investigation could be followed (ACCESS illustrated below) and Anna thoroughly forensically interviewed recognising the 7 principles outlined previously and her account evaluated by internal and external validation.
In the event a strategy was developed by the Interview Advisor, boldly endorsed by the SIO, to progress with the second option and proceed with an evidence-based investigation, the starting point for which were the principles imbued in every detective on day 1 of their training course, the ABC(D) of investigation:
The key issue for psychologists, the police and legal professionals is whether these memories are genuine and relate to events that actually occurred, or whether they are false beliefs and memories generated as a result of suggestive therapy.
Some adults who were sexually abused as children may never disclose that abuse to anyone. Some may not disclose until years after the alleged abuse occurred, some may disclose after a period of psychological
therapy, others may disclose and then retract their disclosures, and others still may disclose after a period where they claimed to have been unaware that they had been abused. Each type of disclosure presents
its own unique challenges for therapeutic and law enforcement professionals. The consequences of such disclosures can be incredibly high, both for the person making the disclosure and those accused as a
result. If legal and therapeutic systems get it wrong there are equally tragic consequences. Either a genuine victim of abuse is not believed, or someone is falsely accused (Conway, 1997; Pezdek & Banks, 1996).
Thus the goal of psychological research is to improve diagnosticity in these cases – how to increase the detection of genuine cases (i.e. hits), without also increasing the number of false allegations (i.e. false
As a result, a significant body of scientific research has developed over the past twenty years in an attempt to inform therapeutic and legal decision-making in such cases. Still, it remains a controversial
issue (Freyd, Putnam, Lyon et al., 2005 and replies).
The events of ‘Midland’ are known only to those directly involved and it is inappropriate to speculate. What is clear is that investigation has potential to destroy reputations, ruin careers, damage lives, and even cost life yet it is a profession that remains totally unregulated and under resourced.
Be under no illusion that, with notable exceptions, some of the most critical, high risk, and complex investigations are being increasingly entrusted to the unqualified and inexperienced with all the collateral damage and miscarriages of justice that creates.
In conclusion let’s reflect on the research and evidence-based conclusions and forensic implications highlighted by Ost that:
“In the absence of independent corroboration, reports of past trauma based on recovered memories are not reliable enough to be the sole basis for legal decisions”.
If reading this prompts you to want to understand more about how to manage investigation cases ‘extraordinarily’ please feel free to contact the team at Intersol Global, email@example.com
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