Interviewing Vulnerable Suspects Arrested for Homicide Offences: The Working Practices of Detectives and Third Parties

  • Jennifer Holmes

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The aim of this research is to critically explore the working practices of detectives and third parties involved in the detention and interviewing of vulnerable suspects, who have been arrested on suspicion of committing homicide (and attempted murder) offences in England and Wales.

    Vulnerable suspects (juveniles under 18 years of age and adults with a mental health condition or mental disorder (Code C PACE)) are over-represented within the criminal justice system (Loucks, 2007; Bradley, 2009) and are at a higher risk of making false confessions or being unable to act in their best interests during a suspect interview (Gudjonsson, 2003). Those who are arrested on suspicion of committing homicide offences can be detained in custody for up to 96 hours and may experience lengthy and complex interviews, potentially exacerbating their vulnerability. Therefore, it is important to explore how these interviews take place and whether the safeguards that vulnerable suspects are entitled to enable fair treatment.

    This research explores what takes place prior to and during the suspect interview and the working practices of detectives and third parties (e.g., the appropriate adult (AA) and legal advisor). To achieve this aim, a case study design was employed. Fieldwork was undertaken between July 2018 and January 2020. 125 police suspect interviews and 29 custody records were analysed for 27 vulnerable suspects on 26 investigations, across three police forces. This was supplemented with 37 semi-structured interviews with police officers, AAs and legal advisors.

    This research identified that detectives and third parties do not always adhere to the rules and guidance which govern the detention and interviewing of vulnerable suspects. Theoretical explanations include police culture and pro-social rule-breaking and these highlight the tensions between the crime control objectives of the police, which prioritise obtaining an evidential account from a suspect, and the due process or welfare objectives of third parties. The research concludes that vulnerable suspects are not always treated fairly, and the implications of these findings for policy and practice are explored.

    This thesis proposes that the rules which govern the practices of detectives and third parties need to be defined clearly, and that when breaches occur those responsible are held accountable. Proposals also include specialist training (similar to a ‘Tier’ system) for AAs to prepare them for participation in major crime interviews.
    Date of Award2023
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorHarriet Pierpoint (Supervisor) & Fiona Brookman (Supervisor)

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