This is an article about how the handle being interrogated by the police. It is important to know what my happen as your freedom, and that of others, can depend on what you say. It is also much easier to deal with being in police custody if you are prepared in advance and know what you can expect to happen.
First things first… We would always encourage doing “No Comment” or silent interviews.
Confessions and statements are usually made because they are an easy way out of a tense and uncomfortable situation. The police rely heavily on confessions as without them they would find it difficult to operate. However, they are trained in the art of extracting information from people and use a variety of techniques, which are not always obvious, to do this. It is up to you to keep your head and not give anything away. The best way to do this is by doing “No Comment” or silent interviews. Time and time again it has proven to be the easiest and most successful way of not incriminating yourself or others.
Below are some of the techniques the police may use against you. By being aware of them, you will find it much easier to avoid falling for their tricks. Yes, it is a stressful situation, but numerous activists have managed to get through interviews without any problems just by not talking. Even if what you might say doesn’t lead to a conviction, it may give them vital leads to go on or give them more information about you. You often don’t know what information they are working from and the picture they are building up, so do not give them help in any way to fill in the blanks.
Using a solicitor.
Always make sure you have a good solicitor with you in an interview who is going to back you up. Many activists will not use the duty solicitor, despite claims that the duty solicitor has no ties with the police. Many experienced activists know which firms of solicitors they will use depending on what they have been arrested for. Especially in the current climate, with new laws being brought out in order to combat protests and with an increasing use of “Section 14” conditions on protests and so on, many solicitors will have no idea what you have even been arrested for. It is not common for most firms to come across “Section 145” of the SOCPA legislation (to do with animal testing companies) and therefore you will probably have more knowledge than them on the matter. Use a solicitor’s firm which you trust to understand your beliefs and the laws surrounding your alleged actions.
Brief your solicitor beforehand that you wish to do a “No Comment” interview if they haven’t already advised you to do so.
In the UK, the interview will be taped or recorded on DVD. The officer interviewing you will normally start by stating the date, time and station you are in and introducing themselves and the other officer in the room (usually there will be 2 of them). Your solicitor will also identify themselves for the benefit of the tape. You will then be asked to confirm your name, address and date of birth and will be cautioned along the lines of:
“You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence”.
Increasingly, the officer will now ask you to explain what you believe the caution means or will explain it to you in their own words. You do not have to do so and can merely say “No Comment”. What the caution does mean is that you have the right to remain silent.
However, if you want to use something in your defence, you should say it now while you have the chance. We know that the best time to come up with a defence is later with your solicitor or your friends and not in the tense room where you are being interviewed, but if you actually did not commit a crime and have a strong alibi for the time when the crime was committed, it might be best to mention this to your solicitor before the interview and see what they think.
Author’s note: I was once arrested for criminal damage, but had actually been at my parents’ house 200 miles away for a few days either side of the date. If I hadn’t mentioned this in my interview and got the police to check with my parents, it may have been hard for me to use that as my alibi in court – the judge may have wondered why I didn’t mention it at the time of my arrest / interview and may have thought that I’d made it and got my story straight with my parents in the months between my arrest and trial.
Techniques the police may use.
1. Uncomfortable silences. The interviewer will often fall silent, putting pressure on you to fill in these “pregnant pauses”. They will try to make you feel uncomfortable about not replying, making you more susceptible to talking or changing your body language.
2. The interviewer may put a statement to you with which you are expected to agree, e.g. “You do understand, don’t you?” Once you have answered something, it is extremely difficult to stop answering questions. In a guide to interrogation, it is stated that you are also less likely to lie if the interviewer can get you into a “Yes mode”.
3. ‘Harmless questions’. Activists in the past have been asked what seem to be pointless (and harmless) questions*, such as: “Oh, I see you’re from Sunderland. That’s a long way away isn’t it?” and “I see you’re wearing a short-sleeved brown top over a long-sleeved black top. Weren’t you wearing a black jacket earlier?”. It feels so silly to respond “No Comment” to these questions, but the police are just trying to get you to start answering questions – it’s much harder to stop once you’ve started.
Additionally, once you’ve started to answer questions, where do you stop? If you confirm that, yes, you were at a demonstration, but then “No Comment” when asked who you were with or what you were doing, they will ask what you’re keeping from them. It’s a lot easier to just say “No Comment” to all questions, however ridiculous or innocent they may seem.
*If you are interviewed by a detective, they will probably ask you questions such as these.
For less serious offences, you will probably just be interviewed by a regular officer on duty, who will be more likely to just question you about the offence directly.
4. You may be subject to non-threatening questions, apparently offering you comfort – this time to put you into a passive, responsive frame of mind. You may be placed under additional pressure by being isolated in your cell, and then be re-interviewed. This is to break down your resistance and may be repeated several times.
5. The police lie! The police may attempt to give you the impression that they have greater knowledge of your activities than is true; do not be fooled by this – they are looking for confirmation of their suspicions. Advantages and disadvantages of denial may be discussed, maybe along the lines of: “You are going to be locked up, but…”. Credibility will be increased by other officers agreeing with the interviewing officer’s judgements.
6. Denial may be portrayed as pointless against the weight of evidence they say they have. They might tell you things like: “Your mate has made a full statement and dropped you right in it, so you might as well come clean”. Hints may be dropped that there are witnesses, or that the police have evidence that cannot be revealed yet. None of this needs to be true at all, and since you do not know what the actual situation is, stick to your guns and keep quiet.
7. It may also be pointed out to you that confession will have its advantages, getting something off your chest, etc. The temptation to think that once you’ve made an admission everything will be over and done with is very strong. They may intimate that the consequences of confession may not be as bad as you imagine, such as telling you that a first-time offender is unlikely to go to prison, especially if they plead guilty or telling you that you’re not a criminal, just misguided. Simply ignore that sort of patronising insult.
8. Morale. You may experience an attempt at demoralisation, e.g. “You’re a very bad liar”. Of course if you say nothing they cannot use this ploy. You may also be warned that denial will have its penalties – “By denying it and pleading not guilty you are turning a small case into a big one.”
9. Furniture and spatial psychology. Look at the use of furniture when in an interview room. Normally you will find yourself in a room with seats and a table that are secured to the floor. However, sometimes you may find yourself in an open room – your body language will be easier to read and see and the power of persuasion is greater when the interviewer removes the barrier of the desk that creates a division of “their” space and “your” space. The whole atmosphere inside a police station is geared towards creating an environment of stress so as to break down the suspect’s morale.
10. Keep an eye on expressions of approval, both verbal and non-verbal: smiling, nodding, agreeing with you, encouraging you to continue. These are all indications of the frame of mind of the interviewer. You may be offered compliments, e.g. “You’re no fool”, etc. and non-verbal compliments such as a little shake of the head as if to say “I admire you for saying that”. The principle behind all this is to make the suspect feel good and to encourage further dialogue. This should not be an issue if you are doing a “No Comment” or silent interview.
11. Good cop/bad cop. The interrogator(s) may alternatively offer support and aggression; either one officer playing both roles or two officers adopting one each. This is intended to break down the suspect. If the suspect is nervous, the friendly approach will be adopted, fostering a feeling of co-operative effort to ‘help’ the suspect out of their fix. If the suspect is confident, they will subject them to the ‘masterful’ approach, so that their confidence is exchanged for mild apprehension. These two approaches will be exchanged intermittently if the suspect fails to respond.
If there are two interviewers, one may be the dominant interviewer and the other a “note-taker”. The note-taker does not take part in the questioning, but watches the reaction of the subject and supports the line of the “number one” interviewer.
Tactics to deal with interviews.
1. Poker Face! Try not to show any kind of emotion while in the interview, whether laughing, smiling, shaking your head, looking frustrated or angry. Yes, it can be hard, especially if you feel you’re being wrongfully accused of something or really believe in what you’ve been arrested for. But don’t let the police break you down. Stick with “No Comment” or turn to face the wall and don’t let any emotions slip – the police will use anything to their advantage!
2. Psychological barriers. This can take many forms, but the main ones are hatred and distrust. These two frames of mind will make you far less susceptible to their methods of persuasion and coercion. Another one is to spot the stereotypical statements they come out with, and to observe how they use the various tactics described here. Or simply to pick a point on the wall, imagine “No Comment” or some other appropriate slogan is written there, and stare at it fixedly for the entire interview. Remember what they are protecting; remember that they are there to prevent you from achieving your goal – what possible reason could you have to trust them?
3. Request a solicitor – it is one of your basic rights. However, do not accept a duty solicitor as they are often dependant on the police for referrals and cannot therefore be relied upon to act in your best interest. Your solicitor should offer moral support and will be your first port of call before your interview – they should find out what evidence the police have against you and you will have a chance to look at it and go through it with your solicitor before being questioned – this will get rid of any element of surprise when you do go into the interview. You do not have to talk to your solicitor about what happened and, if you do give them one story, they are not legally able to help you come up with a defence that states something else. You will have plenty of time to put your side of the story to the court, if and when it gets that far. You are not answerable to the police, so do not help them to convict you.
4. Simply remember what their objective is, whether they are being threatening or faking concern, and do not be fooled by them!
Remember that the police do not want to help you by interviewing you. They are trying to secure a conviction and any information you give them can help them in doing so.
What happens if you speak…
The interrogator will be sharp and pick up on things you might not have realised you had said. A classic pitfall of saying anything to the police is making excessive statements of truth e.g. “I swear on my mother’s grave”, or “There’s no way I could have possibly done that”. These indicate that you may be lying, as do any challenges you make – “If you think I’ve done it, then charge me and we’ll sort it out in court”. Bargaining ploys are another give away, such as: “If I admit it, can I have bail?”
Saying “No Comment” may make it seem like you have something to hide, but it is a lot safer.
You will want to obtain information regarding your immediate future and that of others, and this is only natural. However, a weakness such as this can be exploited by the police, allowing them to prey on your insecurity. For instance, “If I had a friend who had burnt down a building, what do you think would happen to them?” This is a pretty exaggerated example, but it is such an easy trap to fall into. Again, keeping silent avoids this situation.
Some of these points are taken from a book written by an interrogator for interrogators and the rest is filled in by experienced activists. In spite of the constant reminder to activists to “stay silent” many suspects fall into the same predictable traps. Our aim has been to show that the ploys used by the police are predetermined and well-practised, that you are not the exception to the rule, but most of all that with knowledge of the interrogator’s games comes a massive psychological advantage to help you through your time in police custody.
We hope that we have shown you that keeping silent is your best defence.