Improving interviews with suspected sex offenders

Researcher: Gary Pankhurst
Principal supervisor: Prof Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon and Prof Vicki Bruce

Report expected in January 2022.

Obtaining detailed and reliable information from suspects of sexual offences is essential for criminal investigations. However, some interviewing officers find conducting interviews with such suspects very stressful (particularly offences against children). Although some research has found that using an empathic style of interviewing will yield more information, there is limited empirical research examining this style of interviewing and its efficacy during the interview process, especially if the interviewee has a mental health disorder or learning disability.

In a police context, empathy is not just about ‘showing’ empathy to the interviewee. It is also about having the ability to ‘understand’ the perspective of the interviewee, to appreciate the emotions and distress of the interviewee, and to communicate that directly (or indirectly) to them.

The focus of this PhD project was on the development of advanced investigative interviewing techniques to facilitate more effective information retrieval from this cohort. To do this, the student drew upon: (i) Relevant theory relating to empathy and rapport-building; (ii) Current psychological theory on sexual offending, mental health disorders and learning disabilities (LD), and (iii) Psychological developments in investigative interviewing research.