An inaugural lecture by Becky Milne, Professor of Forensic Psychology
Professor Becky Milne began her inaugural lecture, on 22 June 2016, by explaining that research is about being part of a family of researchers; it is about bringing together both academics and practitioners to make a real difference. Becky said that she viewed her inaugural lecture as a “celebration of a joint partnership” with all the other researchers and practitioners she has collaborated with over time.
There is a “media driven stereotype” of the glamourous, intelligent detective, explained Becky; but this is not what makes a good detective. While a good detective may indeed be glamorous and intelligent, it is meticulous attention to detail and excellent communication skills that make them a good detective. “Labourious work does not make good TV”, she joked!
An investigation requires the answering of two key questions. Firstly, “What happened?” and secondly “Who dunnit?”. While there are many laws and regulations surrounding the protection of physical evidence at a crime scene, Becky said that she would also like to be able to put crime scene tape around the heads of everyone present at a scene. The memories or victims, witnesses and suspects plays a vital part in understanding any crime as many crimes have little or no physical forensically relevant detail.
Becky went on to explain the “fallibility and fragility” of memory and the “contamination timeline”. She used the analogy of snow – when it first settles it is perfect and white but, as more people walk over it, it becomes dirty and contaminated.
Misidentification is one of the biggest miscarriages of justice. Becky explained how it is extremely difficult to describe the way a person looks. Traditional interview techniques involved closed questions. However, when people don’t know the answers they tend to guess and, once they have guessed, their own memory changes and the police are left with an inaccurate description leading to misidentification.
Becky went on to explain that in Britian we are very good at learning from these miscarriages of justice. Following each one there is an examination of the technique used. This has led to the introduction of techniques such as recording interviews and, more recently, the introduction of advanced training in interview techniques.
While the interviewing of suspects has come a long way, there is still a long way to go when it comes to interviewing victims and witnesses; this is the next challenge for Becky and her collaborators.The dynamics of the scene can be crucial, as can the call handling at first point of contact. The introduction of body worn cameras has provided both useful information for cases and useful data for academics.
Becky specialises in the “cognitive interview”, a series of techniques for extracting information from the brain. In the lab, these techniques produce 25%-35% more accurate information. Unfortunately, this has not yet translated to the field. How these techniques can be applied in the field is another area of Becky’s current research.
Becky highlighted the importance of extracting information from witnesses in critical incidents. These scenes are often chaotic but the need for reliable information is key. Finally, Becky spoke of the need to develop techniques for dealing with vulnerable groups, such as the victims of sexual assaults.
Becky ended her lecture by saying that the techniques she develops are about the need to enable and allow people to have a voice, “about allowing someone a voice in society”, and through this achieving justice for all.
Videos of past inaugural lectures, including Professor Milnes, can be viewed at http://www.port.ac.uk/research/meet-our-professors/.
Photo (L-R): Professor Pal Ahluwalia, Professor Becky Milne, Professor Matthew Weait.