Police and Crown Law have failed to keep secret details of a controversial model of interrogation used in a case in which a false confession was extracted from a murder suspect.
A High Court judge has ruled that there is a “legitimate public interest” in the underlying Complex Investigation Phased Engagement Model (CIPEM) methodology, which has been “implemented so poorly by specialist interviewers”, subject to wider scrutiny.
“Furthermore, in my opinion, the method itself is worth bringing to light and looking at. It is a method that results in the true nature of what is happening being downplayed or possibly obscured,” Judge Simon France said in overturning a suppression order Things had challenged.
Developed by Detective Superintendent Tom Fitzgerald, the national crime manager, CIPEM aims to get suspects who are reluctant to speak to the police to open up to detectives.
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It does this by replacing normal police interrogation scenarios with a “fireside chat” environment, with comfortable chairs, no desk or notes, shared meals, and empathetic cops.
The interrogation model has been used by police since 2018, but nothing was reported of its existence until February, after the case against three men accused of murdering Upper Hutt woman Lois Tolley collapsed.
In this case, Justice France ruled that detectives who used CIPEM to question one of the men accused of murder (known as “X” due to suppression orders) violated a number of basic guidelines.
The judge said officers misled X and “manipulated” him into making a confession that was “very flawed” and “not credible” and “obtained inadmissibly at an unfair trial”.
Fitzgerald previously said any problems were the result of errors made by the detectives questioning the suspect, and not a faulty model.
That’s despite helping to plan X’s interviews, observing them from an adjacent room – and offering advice and direction when needed.
Lorraine Duffin visits a memorial for her niece Lois Tolley for the first time in 2018.
At a hearing in May, the Crown struggled to keep secret details of CIPEM’s underlying method, which was provided to defense counsel during the Tolley case.
Fitzgerald stated that in his view, publication “would likely impair the upkeep of the law, including the prevention and detection of crime.”
He feared the information could either be misused by untrained officers or suspects could be discouraged from being questioned.
act for ThingsAttorney Daniel Nilsson argued that “transparency is important in general, but even more so in light of the events surrounding Mr X and the decline of his subsequent charges”.
“There is a legitimate public interest in being informed [CIPEM] and whether there should be any concerns.”
In overturning the suppression order, Justice France said: “Proper questioning of suspects is a matter of real importance. The consequences of untrue admissions are often dramatic and a cause of miscarriage.”
The fact that there were “multiple rule violations” in the interrogation of suspect X meant that the “public interest in a better understanding of the technique far outweighs the preservation of legal considerations, which I doubt about the concrete evidence.” predominates”.
The decision, which was suppressed until Friday noon, lifts the lid on four paragraphs from the September 2021 judgment in which Justice France declared X’s confession inadmissible.
These paragraphs provide details of the nine phases of a CIPEM interview, an analysis of the model by one of X’s lawyers, Robert Lithgow QC, and a commentary by the judge.
The suppressed detail
Justice France last year described the CIPEM interview style as having a different look than an ordinary police interview, but “far from revolutionary”.
Following the four previously suppressed paragraphs of its September 2021 ruling, the model emphasizes planning.
“The way to dialogue is to establish a relationship, to understand the suspect and to use this understanding, not to contradict or argue and to avoid aggression,” says Justice France in the judgment.
Flexibility is considered key.
“The interviewer must keep the interview flowing and not impose a predetermined order on it. It is recommended to bring available evidence later in the exercise, usually in what is called the ‘version challenge’.
There are nine phases of a CIPEM interview, which are described in the verdict. The first seven are: planning; approach to respondent; deal with them; dealing with resistance; Dialog; increase the value; version challenge.
The eighth, appeal, is described as helping the suspect think about their actions by rationalizing, minimizing, and justifying their actions. The interviewer must be open to all explanations, although the interview “must ensure that the suspect understands that their world has now changed”.
The ninth and final phase is called the completion phase.
In one of the redacted paragraphs, France says: “I would consider the method clever in a non-pejorative sense”.
“It’s designed to calm the suspect down and get him to talk. As soon as they speak, competent interviewers insert information or an opinion into the conversation at well-timed points, or change the direction of the interview. Challenges are made carefully and without confrontation. The interviews address the weaknesses of the interviewees, but overall it is important to have a relatively friendly dialogue over a longer period of time.”
CIPEM in practice
Police have confirmed that CIPEM has been used in five investigations.
One such case is the 2017 disappearance of Christchurch Michael McGrath, who police say was murdered by his childhood friend David Benbow. Benbow is due to appear in court early next year.
CIPEM-trained personnel are also the focal point for interviews with individuals involved in “critical incidents” such as police shootings.
In August last year, Fitzgerald asked interviewing expert and former New Zealand police officer Dr. Mary Schollum to review CIPEM, a step he described as “a natural progression” in implementing such a model.
Schollum noted that it followed international best practice and “employed a wide range of techniques proven by research to be efficient, effective and ethical in order to obtain accurate and reliable information when questioning suspects”.
She did not speak to anyone who had used CIPEM or look at cases where it had been used.
As a result of Schollum’s review, CIPEM was renamed PEACE Plus to more clearly indicate its connection to a more widely used police interrogation model, PEACE.
A copy of the review obtained from Things There was heavy redaction earlier this year because of the suppression order that has just been lifted.
Fitzgerald previously confirmed that he would be stepping down from a hands-on role at CIPEM but would retain oversight.
Auckland-based QC Aaron Perkins is conducting an independent review into the investigation into Tolley’s murder which includes investigating the use of CIPEM in questioning X.
Police have refused to release the terms of reference for Perkins’ review Things.