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From early adversity to psychological vulnerability during investigative interview: Achieving best evidence in the presence of vulnerability. Dr Kim E Drake, PhD CPsychol University of Derby k.drake@derby.ac.uk. Objectives.

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Dr Kim E Drake, PhD CPsychol University of Derby k.drake@derby.ac.uk

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From early adversity to psychological vulnerability during investigative interview:Achieving best evidence in the presence of vulnerability

Dr Kim E Drake, PhD CPsychol

University of Derby



  • To demonstrate how psychological vulnerability, which can manifest during police interview, may develop through the life-span.

  • In light of psychological evidence, to highlight and discuss aspects of the interview where vulnerability may pose the biggest issue.

Psychological vulnerability during investigative interview

  • Sensitivity to external pressure can be a serious psychological vulnerability during police interview.

  • Can manifest in two ways:

  • interrogative suggestibility

  • interrogative compliance

  • Vulnerable behaviour still an issue though: (1) the problem with open questions; (2) the suspect’s perception of interview which is vital

Drake, 2010b; Gudjonsson, 2003; Gudjonsson et al., 2008; Jakobsson-Öhrn & Nyberg, 2009

Vulnerable suspects

  • A proportion of suspects simply come to be vulnerable through their character or personality (e.g. B’ham Six, G’ford Four, Judith Ward, and Alfred Allen)

  • This population do not have any mental disorder to abnormal intellectual functioning – so no apparent signs of vulnerability.

  • How has such vulnerability developed?

The Suspect’s Life History

  • The experience of life adversity linked with sensitivity to pressure and false confessions

  • Types of NLEs associated with interview suggestibility:

  • Bullying, a history of victimisation, failing exams/difficulty finding work.

  • Personal relationships – breaks ups/parental divorce, death/major illness of a loved one

  • Social issues – decline in social activity/being victim of crime.

Drake, et. al., 2008; Gudjonsson, Sigurdsson & Sigfusdottir, 2009; 2010

The Suspect’s Life History

  • Parents provide first source of interaction.

  • Influences child’s behaviour, perception of self, and relationship with others.

  • Object of child’s attachment (usually parent or caregiver) usually reciprocates emotions

  • Results in strong two-way emotional bond

  • Development of solid interpersonal relationships, healthy self-esteem and psychological development.

Attachment anxiety

  • Institutionalised children have deficits:

  • Problems forming attachments

  • Reduced capacity to deal with stress/pressure

  • Interpersonal problems

  • Insecure attachment patterns precipitate the experience of stressful experiences.

Drake, 2010b; Schore, 2001; Zeanah & Emde, 1994

How might vulnerability develop across the life-span?



Interview pressure/







(due to social exclusion etc)



(e.g. poverty/

lack of opportunity)

G & C model

Lack of care

(incl. negative parenting)


G & C model



(i.e. insecure






Interview pressure/



Brown, Harris & Bifulco, 1986, Drake, in press, Maughan & Kim-Cohen, 2005

Achieving best evidence in the presence of vulnerability

  • Adversity can lead to problems during interview

  • Sensitivity to perceived pressure

  • Insecure attachment tendencies can lead to problematic interactions.

  • Now you’ve heard the psychological theory – think back over past interviews that you have conducted, which aspects of the interview may especially be affected and why?

  • In light of this theory, how can interviewers overcome these?

Points to consider when interviewing a vulnerable suspect

  • Does the suspect understand the police caution?

  • Are they fully oriented in time, place and person?

  • Can the detainee provide coherent and relevant answers, and sustain a conversation?

  • Issue of rapport building with a vulnerable (emotionally needy sometimes) suspect – always beneficial? Constructive and facilitating, but not “too nice”......

  • Interviewer empathy essential

But: when do psychological vulnerabilities matter?

  • Vulnerable suspects can be interviewed effectively.

  • PVs as risk factors; not definitive markers of unreliability.

  • Consistent with Code C of Practice of PACE (Home Office, 2008).

  • PVs should not be considered in isolation of other factors.

When do psychological vulnerabilities matter cont.?

  • The investigative interview is a dynamic and interactive process.

  • Crucial factors influencing capacity for suspect to cope with questioning (Gudjonsson & MacKeith, 1997):

  • Circumstances

  • Interactions

  • Personality

  • Health

Life adversity can also lead to resilience

  • Attachment anxiety and the reported experience of intense negative life events  psychological resilience (i.e. lower compliance scores).

  • The experience of dependent and interpersonal negative events predicted lower compliance scores over-and-above attachment anxious behaviour.

Drake, Sheffield & Shingler, 2011

The suggestibility and compliance scores of the Birmingham Six

(Gudjonsson, 2003).


  • Discussed:

  • The psychology of the vulnerable suspect;

  • How vulnerability may develop across the life-span;

  • These suspects do not always show signs of being vulnerable (until the interview where it manifests as compliance/suggestibility etc);

  • The problems associated with aspects of the interview e.g. rapport building with vulnerable suspects;

  • When such behaviour may an issue.

Key references

  • Drake, K. E (in press). Why might innocents make false confessions? The Psychologist.

  • Gudjonsson, G. H. (2010). Invited article: Psychological vulnerabilities during police interviews. Why are they important? Legal and Criminological Psychology, 15, 1-16.

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