Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
This page describes how you should prepare for a police interview and what happens when you are arrested.
If you have recently been falsely accused of abusing a child or vulnerable adult with whom you work, you won’t need anyone to tell you about the emotional torment you, your family and loved ones are going through. If, however, you are just reading this leaflet out of interest, in all probability you will have no experience of being falsely accused, questioned or charged with abusing anyone. You might be a teacher, a care worker or health care professional, or just someone who, in the past or at the present time, has come into contact with young people or vulnerable adults – in fact, you might be just about anybody.
Why some people make false allegations
You will understand, as we do, that people seek compensation for wrongs done to them. Whilst it is just and right that people are compensated for actual abuse it is not right that individuals are compensated for false allegations or faked abuse. Unfortunately, however, we live in a culture in which individuals increasingly ‘jump on the band wagon’ and use ‘the system’ to get what is not theirs by right. These people are without scruples and will readily lie to gain advantage or monetary gain. Some will do so just for a ‘laugh’ or for bravado. Others might be damaged individuals who lie for psychological reasons. Perhaps for more attention, or because they need to excuse their offending behaviour or life style problems such e.g. drug taking. Maybe they want an excuse for their past low achievements.
Anyone working with children is vulnerable
If you work with children or vulnerable adults please don’t imagine that you will never become a target for an accusation of false abuse. You could easily be the next victim. If so you will almost certainly be interviewed by the police at some stage. Would you know what to expect or what to do in these circumstances? Here we offer you some practical advice on how to cope with the initial trauma of being falsely accused, and what issues you should consider if you become subject of a police inquiry.
If police are investigating you they will either come to your home or work place, or telephone you and ask you to come to the police station. Some police forces however prefer the knock on the door approach – usually quite early in the morning.
There are obvious advantages for them in doing so ? You are more likely to be at home, and they have the benefit of surprise. It is not uncommon for several police officers to be involved in an arrest. The shock of this can be both upsetting and disorienting.
Don’t be intimidated. The early morning call does have some advantages. There are likely to be less people around outside your home and you may be able to protect some members of your household from embarrassment. You (or your partner) may also be able to let your employer know that you won’t be at work that day.
The police, more often than not, will be respectful but assertive in a ‘professional’ sort of way. Having confirmed your identity they will probably arrest you and advise you of your rights. This can be very disorienting. You will be told, in very brief terms, why you are being arrested, and cautioned in the following manner.
“You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence”
Don’t be intimidated by the warning that your silence may be held against you. It is probably better that you say nothing in reply until you have first consulted with a solicitor and they are present to hear what you have to say. The warning does not require you to say anything, particularly at this stage, and you are fully entitled to remain silent. If necessary you can always say “I intend to maintain my silence until I have consulted with my solicitor”.
Depending on the circumstances your house may be searched and property (e.g. videos, computer, mobile phones etc.) removed. You are entitled to object if the police do not have a search warrant. Pay particular attention to the wording. Always ask for a receipt.
Being arrested is not a pleasant experience, particularly if, as a result, you have been handcuffed or have to wait in a prison cell. Although you will be told the reason why you have been arrested the police will not enter into any discussion regarding these matters until you are formally interviewed at the police station.
Get a specialist solicitor
Your first priority is to ensure that you are not interviewed without legal representation. Do not use your local solicitor unless (s)he is known to you and has experience of criminal law, including false abuse allegation cases. A duty solicitor may not be sufficiently experienced or fully qualified. I
If necessary use a solicitor from outside your own town. Don’t be concerned if you cause a delay. The need for a solicitor is not an indication of guilt but rather an acknowledgement that without such protection the police may not always behave correctly. You will not normally have to pay for this as police interviews are covered by legal aid.
Call our helpline 0333 335 5827 for information about suitable solicitors
How to cope in the custody suite
You will help the situation if you:
Remain polite, courteous and positive at all times. Interviews generally last 2-3 hours (longer in more complex cases). You might however, be kept much longer than this if an interviewing suite is not available when you arrive. If your appointment with the police is pre-arranged it might be helpful if you take a notebook and pen with you so that you can jot down the basics in case you need to refer to them at a later stage
If you are taken into custody you should immediately ask that you be allowed to inform a reliable adult. It needs to be someone who knows how best to help you at that moment. The police may only allow you one phone call and you may not be given much opportunity to explain your predicament.
Listen carefully and understand that the police will be looking for evidence that, potentially, could convict you. That is their job. Despite what they may say they are not seeking to establish the truth or even trying to help you.
Allow the police to initiate the conversation. Many people when they are anxious tend to ramble on. Try to avoid doing so.
Ensure that your solicitor also takes notes of the interview. This does not need to be a verbatim account but rather a record of the names of your complainants, the nature and context of their complaint(s), details of any witnesses or evidence relied on by the police to support the complaint, and relevant details of any questions asked and answers given.
Keep in mind that although your interview will be audio taped the police will not usually give you a copy (or transcript) unless you are later charged. This means if you are not charged you may not be able to recall important details of the allegations, or defend yourself, if, for example, your employer later takes disciplinary action against you, and uses the same facts against you.
Note the interviewing officer’s name(s) and number(s).This is particularly important if they say something or do something which is unhelpful or wrong, or if they fail to do something required of them, or to meet your reasonable requests.
Try not to worry if you are placed in a cell. The police cannot keep you locked up indefinitely and without good reason. If you are concerned about your treatment make sure you inform the Custody Officer (who is responsible for your care and welfare and for ensuring you are legally detained). It is best to point out your concerns as they arise but if this is not practicable, do so as you are leaving the police station.
How to act during the interview
Always tell the truth: There is no point in lying or trying to confuse matters. This will only make things worse for you.
Expect to be interviewed by two police officers – whilst one police officer will usually take the lead you may be asked questions by both of them. The interview will be audio taped.
Act with caution: You may think that because you are innocent you have nothing to hide and can talk freely. Make sure that what you say cannot be misinterpreted or misrepresented and used against you.
The disclosure process normally starts with a cosy chat. If you find this helpful, fine. If you find it irritating or patronising politely ask them to get to the point of the interview. After a few preliminaries the serious business normally starts with a ‘phased disclosure’ of the complaint. Bit by bit you are given information and asked to respond to each stage. This creates a lot of anxiety because you don’t know what is coming next or where it is leading.
Relevancy: Some of the questions you may be asked may seem irrelevant. For example you may be asked about your previous career, professional competencies, or even your sex life. You are perfectly entitled to ask what these have to do with the investigation and, if necessary, to decline to give an answer. At some point you are also likely to be asked if you have knowledge of a particular person, especially the complainant. Keep in mind that in all probability that person will have already given a statement to the police.
Establishing rapport: Try to keep your conversation free flowing. This can be difficult when you are asked to comment on something which did not happen, or relates to events which are said to have occurred decades previously. The police and prosecution will use ‘sticky’ moments in the interview to discredit you. Do not give the impression you are trying to ‘score points’ or that you are evading important matters. Allow yourself time to think but don’t delay your answer unnecessarily. If necessary you can always say (if true) something like I am having trouble remembering – it was a long time ago.
What if I can’t correctly remember the answers? You are bound to be anxious. Don’t expect to able to remember past (or even recent) events clearly. If you don’t know or can’t remember the the answers say so. Don’t be tempted to ‘best guess’ the answer or fill in the gaps in your knowledge in order to appear helpful. If what you say turns out not to be strictly accurate your honesty may, at a later date, be questioned, and your reply may be used against you. Only give information if you are absolutely sure of the accuracy of your answers.
Be comfortable in the interviewing room: If the chair you are provided with is not comfortable ask for a replacement (for safety reasons interview furniture is often very basic). If you need a drink of water ask for it. If your interview is pre-arranged it may help if you take some unopened liquid refreshment (but not alcohol) with you. Take toilet breaks when necessary but be prepared to be escorted, perhaps by an officer not of your sex.
Special Needs: If you have a special need, including a religious need, a health problem or require food at specific times, or have forgotten your spectacles or hearing aid, make this clear to the arresting officer or your solicitor before your interview starts. If you need medication take unopened tablets with you and, if possible, your repeat prescription form as evidence of your need. If you are refused such items you can always begin your taped interview by saying something like “before we begin I would just like to point out that I have previously requested my [item(s)] and need these in order that I can give my full attention to this interview”.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the tape to be stopped before consulting the solicitor: If you need to speak to your solicitor at any stage ask to do so. At the end of the day, he/she is your only support at the police station, so use him/her to the full.
Your rights in the police station
You have a right to:
see the written code of practice governing your rights and how you are treated. This code is normally referred to as the PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence) Code of Practice
be treated humanely and with respect. This includes the right be given adequate meals and sufficient sleep.
know why you have been arrested. The police can only detain you for a certain period of time – normally a maximum of 24 hours (36 hours for a serious arrestable offence), after which they must decide whether to charge you or release you.
inform the Custody Officer of any concerns you have and request that he/she makes a note of them in his custody log e.g. any incidents of improper conduct, need for medication etc.
After your police interview has been completed you may have to wait whilst a decision is made whether to release you (with or without bail conditions), or to charge you and place you before a Court. In the vast majority of cases you will be released. Only in very rare cases is a person remanded in custody. This usually happens when the accused does not have a settled address, or if they live in close proximity to the complainant.
Before you leave the police station you will be asked to sign the the custody record in respect of yourself. If necessary correct any factual errors.
Your solicitor will debrief you on the strength of the police case. They will explain that once the police investigation is complete a file will normally be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service who will decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence to place the matter before a Court. Do not expect a decision for several weeks. Under no circumstances contact the accuser(s) or their family.
Comply fully with any conditions attached to your release – if unsure seek legal advice.
If you are currently working with children or vulnerable adults the police will normally notify your employer. You should however inform them yourself of the developments which have taken place.
Expect to be suspended. You should also inform your trade union.
At some point you will want to consider who else should be told. Generally speaking it is better only to tell people on a need to know basis. Whilst most people find the experience of being falsely accused of abuse shaming and do not want to tell anyone, you will probably be surprised by how supportive people are.
You may find yourself getting depressed. Seek medical help if you need it. You are not alone, contact FACT now.