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October 99 News & Events

The use of audio tape recorders for police interviews with suspects has now been commonly accepted by every UK police force. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) applies to the gathering and recording of interview evidence in criminal cases. Tape recorded interview evidence as permitted by PACE is firmly recognised as the most secure and reliable method of submitting interview evidence, unlike handwritten notes which can very often be disputed.

However, it has been questioned in court whether audio recordings allow room for interpretation and thus do not necessarily give the whole story. As a result some forces have experimented with the use of both audio and video taping of suspect interviews.

Det Supt John McGowan was one of the first interested in the benefit of this new technology: "We saw video recording of suspects and accused persons as a logical development from audio recording. No longer does the judge or jury rely on transcription or audio tape - the video recording encapsulates in realtime not only the physical and psychological state of the suspect or accused, but also the demeanour of both sides. Fairness is more easily demonstrated and falsehoods are more difficult to hide. The video has provided added confidence to officers who welcome the additional safeguards."

Key issues

A system using the audio and video technology should respond to a number of key issues. First of all, law enforcement in England, Wales and Scotland demands a minimum of two audio recording decks. Despite the fact that the video records sound, audio tapes are easier to work with, notably for the transcription and can be duplicated rapidly and in a cost-effective way.

Recorders designed and manufactured by NEAL Recording Systems have been approved by the Home Office since 1985. NEAL interview tape recorders are already in use in every police force in the UK and many abroad and can be upgraded with a separate NEAL video system. A compact audio and video system is also available.

It is essential that the time recorded by the audio and video tapes is exactly the same and can be clearly identified in terms of date and time. The video identification is possible with the burnt-in image which cannot be tampered with at a later time. In addition, the exact machine on which the recording has been made should also be shown - a clear identification number will ensure traceability here. Meanwhile, the audio recording normally uses the familiar speaking clock.

Another benefit is that this equipment has exactly the same controls as those already well known to all officers who have conducted an interview.

A series of safety alarms ensure that the recording is made successfully, as tape failure or bad microphone connection can often cause a fault.

Another matter that has caused much discussion is whether one broad view of the interview room should be complemented by a second camera providing a close-up of the suspect. In child witness recording suite situations, NEAL discovered that a picture-in-picture option could detail facial expression and therefore add reassurance.

The use of video for recording interviews provides further authentication devices to support police interview techniques and reinforces the validity of evidence gained in the interview room. Whilst audio provides the main evidential element of any recording, the significant additional contribution made by the video record can now help a judge or jury to understand the precise circumstances in which the interview was conducted.

For details contact Olivier Diesnis on telephone (0944) 191 418 1000, fax (0944) 191 418 1001 or e-mail: od@canford.co.uk





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