back to article Boffins: It's EASY to make you GRASS YOURSELF UP for crimes you never did

New research has found that people are often surprisingly willing to confess to having committed crimes – even when they're innocent, or when the crimes never actually took place. According to psychboffins Julia Shaw of the University of Bedfordshire, UK and Stephen Porter of the University of British Columbia, Canada, …

  1. BongoJoe

    I was going to write something flippant but the more I think about this the more serious this revalation appears to be.

    If this turns out to be so then the implications can be terrifying.

    - A political party wishes to gain election. Seed false memories of immigration issues which blighted your childhood or perhaps you now 'remember' being out of work when the other lot were in power. On the other hand since we've been in power Things Have Never Been So Good., etc.

    - A law enforcement agency wants to get a reult.

    - A jihadist or political extremist cell wishes you to do their dirty work. All of a sudden you remember the offensive slight against your $DIETY or your $COUNTRY

    This is straight from Philip K Dick whose books are becoming more and more the manuals for the near future.

    1. Cliff

      You remember when you and Dave and Ben and Osama blew up that building right?

      The implications are quite chilling. You don't need to rely on torture to get unreliable confessions. I can only see this increasing unreliable confessions in countries where nailing someone vengefully is more important than finding the perpetrator.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @ Cliff

        I can only see this increasing unreliable confessions in countries where nailing someone vengefully is more important than finding the perpetrator.

        Already being done in US, NZ, Oz, most likely UK as well. Nz pigs excel at planting evidence, and that includes false confessions through threats, torture, and psychologuical torture.

        And yes, if a cop dislikes you in NZ, rest assured that they can and often will make stuff up, plant false witnesses, threaten your family, make up charges or even assault your friends. And then they pass you over to the rest of the injustice system, especially the probation service who will actively commit crimes (and help each other cover them up) incuding crimes against children to keep someone down if a high-enough pig wants them down.

        I know stuff like this goes on in the US, and I have no doubt taht the UK and Oz are also so affected. Watch your backs out there, and don't bother trusting your lawyer unless your're rich enough to afford a decent one - many of the "defence lawyers" are in the back pockets of the pigs.

    2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      I remember there was a study a few years ago where they planted false memories in children. (The false memory was of a holiday that never happened) It's quite chilling that this can be done to adults too.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "I remember there was a study a few years ago where they planted false memories in children. "

        The Satanic Ritual Abuse in childcare cases in the USA and New Zealand are a classic example.

        A creche worker (Peter Ellis) is still languishing in a New Zealand prison based on stories concocted by social workers convinced there was such a thing and pushing false memories into children to prove it.

        (The claims bore an uncanny resemblance to claims made at the Salem Witch trials, but New Zealand isn't known as a country with 40 million sheep of whom 4 million have voting rights for nothing.)

        1. teebie

          "I remember there was a study a few years ago where they planted false memories in children. "

          I think this would be the study by Loftus, Braun, and Ellis where they convinced people they had met Bugs Bunny and Ariel at Disneyland when they were children.

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        It's quite chilling that this can be done to adults too.

        I'd say the "chilling" aspect is that we needed Yet Another Experiment to explain this simple fact of human psychology to people. We have decades of methodologically-sound psychological research showing all the ways in which self-reporting (whether it's confessions, eyewitness testimony, or what have you) is completely untrustworthy. And that includes phenomenologically - no one can trust their own memories worth a damn.

        Just read McRaney's blog or books if you want the short version.

        And, of course, many of these findings are basically scientific confirmations of what rhetoric scholars have been saying for centuries.

        Judicial systems overvalue testimony precisely because it's so easy to suborn. Juries and other audiences overvalue it because it's comforting to believe in a myth of human reliability. I don't see either of those facts changing any time soon.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "- A political party wishes to gain election. Seed false memories of immigration issues which blighted your childhood or perhaps you now 'remember' being out of work when the other lot were in power. On the other hand since we've been in power Things Have Never Been So Good., etc."

      You think they are not already aware of this and haven't already been using the techniques for years? You just have to look at how governments of all colours handle contentious legislation. There's a "leak" of a report of the worst case, watch the press and public outrage, claim it's just an early draft, roll back a bit, then announce the "watered down" version (which is what they wanted in the first place) and everyone sighs with relief that now it's only half their rights being stolen instead of all of them.

      Then there's Camerons "Nudge Department" which is specifically tasked with changing peoples behaviour. And misleading newspaper headlines which, at best, might have a "correction" on page 24 a month later.

      Sadly, lots or people form their opinions based on the headlines they see advertised at the newsagents or maybe the first paragraph of the story, both of which are designed to attract attention, by misleading the reader.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Pretty sure this was already known and used by police and others

        The only revelation is that they've done a study to quantify exactly how easy it is to do. Those who use it to extract false confessions or as a push-polling strategy don't need the scientific proof to use something they already knew generates results.

    4. Hargrove

      Serious, indeed


      Imagine that on top of this, the subject is presented with electronic "evidence" of past activities. These may be false positives mined from real data or wholly fabricated untruths.

      Humans have an uncanny ability to believe (and diisbelieve) almost anything. We are just beginning to get a handle on the psychology of human response to information technology. As other readers have accurately pointed out, the potential for serious mischief is enormous.

  2. Detective Emil

    Now you mention it, I do remember something like that

    Surely, given their field of expertise, El Reg should classify these researchers as trickcyclists, not boffins?

    See also "Manufacturing False Memories Using Bits of Reality", Loftus, Cohn & Pickerell, 1996.

  3. Bobby Omelette

    Or could this study just prove that university students are smart enough to play psychobabblers at heir own game?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Bobby Omlette, or maybe university students not bright enough to be aware of what they did during the latest night on the town.

  4. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Trickcyclists indeed. There's some unanswered questions in this... only students? What age? What sex? Are the results the same with adults? From the tone of the report, these are one-trickcyclists. However, this is scary stuff when one thinks about it. BongoJoe just touched the tip of it... job interviews, advertising manipulation...

    1. Old Handle

      It says university students, so presumably at least the majority would be at least 18.

    2. Robert Helpmann??

      Trickcyclists Indeed

      There's some unanswered questions in this...

      Isn't that one of the hallmarks of good science? Mark 85, while I realize you were simply asking for data which should presumably be included in the published article, at least in aggregate, more pertinent questions would expand on the researchers' conclusion that it is possible to manipulate memories as described. Under what circumstances? To what extent? By whom?

      University students are the human equivalent of white rats. As many schools have participation requirements, a lot of research gets done using them as subjects.

  5. Disko

    Remember... were chosen to lead the flock through the apocalypse of your choice by your savior/prophet/supreme leader? Right, none of that happened either. People die in fires for this crap.

    I remember being a student and insisting on such things as facts and proof, as exactly the means by which studying provides any useful result. I was, and am also quite sure of having my mnemonic faculties intact, and I am absolutely sure of the things I did or did not do, For instance I never killed any neighbours pet, set fire to government buildings or shot the prime minister, no matter how badly I wanted to.

    The interesting question to me is: are the researchers trying to sway us with their story, towards believing that there is such a thing as linguistically implanted false memories, or have all the people who allow false memories to be germinated in this way, sustained some form of brain damage before? Are the researchers trying to have us believe that none of what we think is real actually happened, thus paving the way for total denial, and the annihilation of science itself? And how about the mental faculties of the researchers? How do we even know they remember correctly what even took place, if anything at all? I am not even joking at this point...

    1. Psmo

      Re: Remember...

      Actually, in a similar way as hypnosis, I wouldn't be surprised if the more intelligent you are, the better it works as you have a more active mind that fills in the blanks, so fewer details need to be fed. Still, you'll be ok, of course because you're so smart. You remember me lending you that tenner, right?

      My best friends cousin's mate told me this was true, 'n that's proof enough for me.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Remember...

      "For instance I never killed any neighbours pet, set fire to government buildings or shot the prime minister"

      So it was just me then? I could have sworn you were there. You brought the shovel, and the petrol and handed me the gun. I remember it vividly.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I must confess

        We were on the roof, just messing around.

        You had the gun, I had only just given it to you after monopolising it all day and then we got busted,

        I figured we would go down for what we had done (the smashing of the windows and trespass), there was no chance of escape, I said 'let him have it', and you did.

        I tried to tell the truth, that you were simple, that it was all my doing.

        But they were big, they put words in my mouth, I didn't know what to believe anymore, I was scared, I was only a little kid.


        We were together on the roof when the copper died.

        You were hanged, I wasn't.

        They said I was the lucky one.

        They Lied.

        1. Chris Evans

          Re: I must confess

          Sounds like the Derek Bently case

          "You were hanged, I wasn't."

          Bently was hanged to!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I must confess

            Yes Bentley was hung, Craig wasn't.

            Neither shot the copper.

            Bentley was hung because any other result would have undermined 'respect for the law'

            This was the corrupt state protecting itself in a time of Philby, Burgess, Maclean and Blunt, Profumo, Kagan and the rest.

            Them at the bottom had everything to fear from them at the top as them at the top wrote contemporary history.

            Elm House ?

            This has been going on too long, they didn't need false memories as false evidence and institutional bias won every time.

            That was before the internet and 24/7 surveilance, TPTB aren't the only ones making real time copies any more.

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Remember...

      I remember being a student and insisting on such things as facts and proof, as exactly the means by which studying provides any useful result. I was, and am also quite sure of having my mnemonic faculties intact, and I am absolutely sure of the things I did or did not do, For instance I never killed any neighbours pet, set fire to government buildings or shot the prime minister, no matter how badly I wanted to.

      Be as absolutely sure as you like. You're still wrong. It is vanishingly unlikely that any human being's "mnemonic faculties [are] intact" in any useful sense. Decades of experimentation have amply established that.

      And even before those experiments, we have philosophical ones like Descartes' "Evil Genius", which quite rightly points out that it's impossible to prove that someone hasn't by some means deranged your senses or reasoning faculties.

      Are the researchers trying to have us believe that none of what we think is real actually happened, thus paving the way for total denial, and the annihilation of science itself?

      Spare us the sophomoric solipsistic anguish, please. The researchers are just confirming prior results about the ease with which false memories can be established, and what rhetorical maneuvers are useful in doing so. Reasonable scientists will adopt a probabilistic outlook as they always have. That can either be frequentist ("the evidence of my senses (in interpreting my instruments) is usually consistent, and the results of my reasoning usually coincides with what others report") or Bayesian ("I'll assign small probabilities to adverse causes such as derangement"), but in either case we Just Get On With It. The lesson here is to be critical, not to throw our hands up in despair. Scientific Epistemology 101.

      (This September sure is September.)

  6. Anonymous Coward

    After the confessions

    So, how many have been arrested for admitting to their crimes so far??? You know how keen the police are to clear up old, unsolved crimes.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon

      Re: After the confessions

      Simple rule: Deny everything, even the existence of your interrogators if you have to.

      Take away point: You decide your own reality (or else risk having someone else decide it for you)

  7. John 98

    Confession as evidence

    Confessions are unusable in court in many countries. I am no great fan of the legal profession, but fair dos, some of them got here centuries ago and drew the right conclusion.

    1. Teiwaz

      Re: Confession as evidence

      And a few samll number of centuries before that, it was ducking stools, trial by fire, trial by combat and the 'Spanish Inquisitions' favourite interrogation methods, and this is only a few hundred years after the Romans (who I beleive had at least the rudiements of a fairly sensible legal system).

      Up a ladder, down a snake. The defintion of 'Progress' depends on the madness of the 'man' in charge.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Confession as evidence

      In many other places, the confession is admissible but only as circumstantial evidence: taken with a grain of salt. Barring it being part of a guilty plea, it's usually up to the prosecution to support the testimony with more reliable evidence.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I was once asked to assist a police investigation into someone I knew socially. As far as I'm aware no record was kept of the conversation. They made several derogatory statements about the other person and gave me explicit details of the damning evidence they already had gathered. Afterwards those statements turned out to be patently untrue - either false or gross exaggerations.

    It appeared that they were fishing for something to justify a case that they obviously thought would be a feather in their caps. They were also inviting me to distance myself from the accused by "confirming" their lies and embroidery. If I had not stood my ground and gave the facts as I knew them - then I wonder whether I would have been one of their prosecution witnesses complete with false memories.

    In court the judge reprimanded their star "expert witness" several times for giving damaging personal opinions rather than professional facts. The witness was too keen to distance their organisation from the defendant - whom they did not know personally. The judge exposed the weakness of the evidence and the jury said "not guilty".

  9. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    A better

    use for this technique should be the restoration of damaged memories in stroke/brain damage patients, thus enabling the patients to have a memory of the wedding day/grandpas birthday / whatever.

    But then thats never as much fun as getting your victim to have a false memory of that assination thus getting him/her to cough to it during an extended police interview and leving the real villian free.....


    <<<putting this one in his evil mastermind folder

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A better @ Boris

      thus getting him/her to cough to it during an extended police interview and leving the real villian free.....

      Sadly there are many NZ'ers in that place.


  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This research isn't especially new: The Reid technique has been attracting criticism for years for exactly these reasons.

    Best thing you can do is to say nothing and insist on a lawyer. Say. Nothing.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Best thing you can do is to say nothing and insist on a lawyer.

      Yes. This video should be mandatory viewing for all US citizens. First a criminal defense attorney explains why you should never talk to the police without counsel; then a police officer explains why he's right. It's a long video - just short of 50 minutes - but entertaining and well worth the time.

      (The officer is George Bruch. I'm not sure who the lawyer is, unfortunately.)

      Edit: Just saw Haku posted a link to the same video below. I'll leave my post up because I don't want to leave one of those inscrutable "deleted by the author" notices.

  11. Gavin Park Weir

    Erm parents of students?

    I can sort of see this happening. Parents of students are mostly unaware of the ghastly and generally dangerous stuff their little darling gets up to in their absence.

    No doubt a reasonable portion of the student body have done a number of illegal things that generally not widely known about.

    So when a researcher makes up something uncomfortably close to the truth the subject make it fit.

    I am sure that for the completely innocent there would not be convinced.

    1. Old Handle
      Thumb Down

      Re: Erm parents of students?

      While it's true that some of the test subjects might have actually done illegal or dangerous things that weren't known, don't you think it's unlikely that 71% of them had done or experienced the same scenario the researchers invented?

  12. Haku

    Don't Talk to Police (YouTube)

    Sure the talk is from a criminal defense attorney and cop in America which mostly relates to US laws, but it's still really really worth a listen because some points raised are universal when dealing with any police force in any country.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm not sitting through

      48 minutes of US twaddle, however a few key things to remember about 'not talking to the Police'.

      - If I have reasonable suspicion to believe you have committed a crime and you refuse to talk to me, i.e. I've not seen you do it, but I suspect you have, and have grounds for that suspicion, then I get to arrest you.


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm not sitting through

        If you have 'reasonable suspicion' then the arrest is going to happen anyway., Guilty or innocent, the best policy is to stay silent. Once an arrest happens it becomes a word game. Anything you say gives the police a bigger attack surface for their lawyers to twist the meaning of to suit whatever their version of the issue at hand is (plus whatever else they can get to stick).

        I was once naive enough to take the "let's reason together and sort things out" approach; and it was counter-productive. To say the least.

    2. Qu Dawei

      Twisting statements

      I was once interviewed about a murder that had happened two doors away from me when I had just moved into my house. I obviously didn't do it, but I was a "stranger" to the village, and my daily habits were different from most of the others. I also resembled someone who ended up being the guilty party who had been seen leaving the village in a suspicious manner shortly after the murder was judged to have taken place. The detectives showed me a photo of the murdered lady and asked me whether I had ever seen her. My reply was very clear and accurate "I don't remember ever seeing her", which they took to mean "I have never seen her". I objected to this summary, and they couldn't understand what my objection was about. I pointed out that I said I didn't remember seeing her, but may be I had seen her and even said something like "Good morning" to her on one occasion, but it was so unimportant and trivial that I had forgotten this. However, it was remembered and reported by another neighbour when she was interviewed by them. The police took my reasoning as evidence that I was a "smart alec" and had something to hide. I am quite convinced that matters would have progressed further except that they interviewed the person who confessed and who had matching blood samples, etc to those taken at the crime scene. I have been extremely dubious about taking to the police about ANYTHING since then,

  13. Christoph

    I wonder how effectively you could plant false memories if you could hold someone in isolation for a decade while continually interrogating and torturing them?

    Not that any civilised country would do that, of course.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ Christoph

      I wonder how effectively you could plant false memories if you could hold someone in isolation for a decade while continually interrogating and torturing them?

      Can be done in a few weeks sometimes, if the stressors are high enough.

  14. defiler

    Step 3 - Profit

    We can remember it for you wholesale. That's all.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    False or inaccurate memories?

    This does raise some interesting questions about all the ancient events that the Bill are currently investigating. Is it reasonable to believe that anyone has an accurate and complete recollection of events of 30 or 40 years earlier? Can/should a conviction be based on the memories of an individual from 40 years earlier? If someone is (wrongly?) accused of an illegal action forty years earlier is it reasonable for them to be able to remember exactly what they were doing and where on the evening of 7th August 1976 so as to defend themselves? Personally I have trouble remembering last month!

    Even if there is some forensic or documentary evidence for a prosecution, is it reasonable to expect that all necessary forensic and documentary evidence for the defence can still be found after forty years?

    I believe there is something in Scottish law that says that people cannot be expected to have an accurate recollection of events more than a year and a day before.

    Obviously no-one wants to see people guilty of serious offences against the person walk free, but equally do we want innocent people to go through the trauma of prosecution and possible wrongful conviction, simply because of someone's false or innacurate 'memories' from decades before?

    Does this study provide evidence for a consideration of some sort of 'Statute of Limitations' for various crimes in the UK? (Not that any politician would dream of such a thing - they never base their knee-jerk reactions on evidence)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: False or inaccurate memories?

      It is said that most of what you remember is for the years between 15 and 25. Personally there is not a lot I can remember accurately even for those years. They were mostly full of routine which blurs any details. Even unusual events are only remembered as a "headline" fragment encapsulating the experience - with no recollection of what happened before or after. At a school reunion I discovered that two classroom blocks were joined by staircase. I had completely forgotten it when trying to draw a map in my mind - yet must have traversed it every school day between 12 and 19.

      My older sister tells me that I used to sit outside a relative's house - refusing to go in because they had a ferret. While I trust her to remember things in our childhood - that one escapes me completely. She also disputes some of what I consider clear memories.

      A Proustian madeleine moment can bring a long-forgotten memory into sharp focus. Subsequently what is remembered is that "remembering" - and the detail is never as sharp again. Every time the memory is recollected it is stored back with subtle changes.

      Our memory seems to work with tokens for the components of a scene. It expands the token into an image, sound, smell, or emotion using stock items like a Getty library - and then fills in the gaps with plausible detail.

      My long career in IT trouble-shooting taught me the truth of that old adage "Don't believe anything anyone else says they have seen - and only believe half of what you think you have seen yourself".

      I have noticed that I have a "ring of truth" effect that often gives me a feeling about whether a plausible offering is really the true thing. It seems to be a pattern recognition effect - the brain only lights up when there is a perfect fit. We probably all do it when trying to remember a name - lots of near misses - then we know we have it. Some (most?) people seem to be happy with any plausible match that seems to solve the problem for their preferred result.

      1. strum

        Re: False or inaccurate memories?

        Other work has suggested that, when you recall something old, you're actually recalling the last time you recalled it - rather than the event itself. If that has gone through enough iterations, you might be far away from reality.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: False or inaccurate memories?

      Obviously no-one wants to see people guilty of serious offences against the person walk free

      That may be obvious, but it's also not true, when the alternatives are considered.

  16. captain veg Silver badge

    Reality distortion field

    "The other event was pure fiction, but a surprising number of test subjects came to believe it happened anyway"

    So replacing Steve jobs wasn't so hard after all.


  17. DocJames


    The important issue here is regarding the widespread (in the US at least, mostly in the 2000s) sexual assault cases that are "remembered" following therapy. Many parents have been accused by their children of crimes which there is no evidence of beyond a memory which was completely suppressed until the therapist managed to extract it. Once it has been mentioned as real, then it turns into a very real memory of remembered trauma, with much more typical features - flashbacks, emotional arousal, avoidance - with all the long term consequences of suffering.

    The concept of false memory syndrome is important, as otherwise vulnerable people will continue to make their own lives worse by accusing their nearest and dearest of horrific crimes that didn't happen.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Background

      That is certainly one important issue, but it's hardly the only case of coaxed fallacious testimony used systematically to convict innocent people.

      The broader issue is insufficiently stringent rules of evidence in various court systems. In the US, at least, there's widespread abuse of "expert" testimony that is often nothing more than outright grift.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Even if you remember doing something wrong the key is to never admit to anything.

    The police like you to do their job for them, this is why they do interviews in the first place.

    Stonewalling them often leaves them with nothing at all, even if you're guilty.

    You don't need a lawyer to do this, just say nothing.

    1. David L Webb

      In the UK the police caution is


      ‘You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.’


      Hence if the police have little other evidence and the case is unlikely to get to court saying nothing may work but if it is likely to go to court then silence may not be in your best interests.



      ‘You don’t have to answer the questions, you can remain entirely silent if you wish, or reply ”no comment”. This is because you are entitled to have the case proven against you, you do not have to convict yourself by your own words. But, if you have a defence (and I will advise you if you do), you should consider putting forward that defence now. If you do not, and your case goes to Court, and the first time you mention your defence is in Court, then the magistrate is entitled to think, or the judge is entitled to tell the jury, why is that? Wouldn’t an innocent person want to tell the police at the first opportunity that they were innocent? And they might think that you’ve made up that defence in the meantime, and that what you’re saying is not true. You are perhaps less likely to be believed if the first time you mention your defence is in Court.’


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @David L Webb - I find that advice a little dubious, myself. For a start you may not know what the charges are and the police may use the time between the arrest and charging you for a fishing trip. I'm not entirely sure that I believe that not saying anything would lower your credibility with a jury...from the POV of an arrestee mistrust of the police is the rational course of action; whether you're guilty or not. There is nothing to be gained and a great deal to lose by rabbiting away.

        1. David L Webb

          There is an earlier article by the same person explaining why you should get legal advise before saying anything


          So, this is where it gets interesting. The main and most important difference between having legal advice and not, kicks in here, and it’s something that many of you will not have considered.

          If you have a solicitor, or accredited police station representative (same thing for the purposes of PACE), that advisor will have been given, prior to your interview, what’s called ‘disclosure’. An interviewing officer does not have to disclose very much at all about why they suspect a person of having committed a crime. They only have to disclose enough that the legal advisor can reasonably advise the suspect as to whether and how they may have committed that offence. Sometimes not even that information is forthcoming. The advisor will hear the disclosure and then probe it, pushing for more disclosure, and testing it for evidence. An experienced advisor can read between the lines, and even tell from the officers’ body language whether or not they have a strong case, or even a case at all.

          A game of bluff and double-bluff may take place at this point, with the stakes being high where you are concerned, whether you ultimately gain a criminal record or not. They will be looking to see if there are witness statements, or if the witness has refused to tell the police what they saw, if there is identification evidence, describing the suspect, and if that fits the client.

          There can be CCTV footage, or the potential for fingerprint or DNA evidence, which may not be available on the day of the interview. Anything already said by the suspect at the time of their arrest has to be considered as to how much that may have already ‘damaged’ their case already. They can also ask what the likely result may be in the event of a confession, i.e that their client has no previous convictions and so is eligible to receive a ‘caution’, more of which later.

          A right to silence?

          The advisor will then have a private consultation with you in which they will outline what their view of the strength of the evidence against you is, what offences you may have committed, any lawful defences you may have, and most importantly, what you should or should not be saying in interview. All throughout this process, the lawyer will be weighing up the strength of the evidence, and deciding how their client’s case will be best served, whether that be by remaining silent, or by answering questions.


      2. Alan Brown Silver badge


        The first words to say when given that kind of caution is "That's fine, I want my lawyer now"

        In the USA at least, cops are prohibited from further questioning until one is provided.

      3. Eric O'Brien

        (Inexpertly) defending your actions to police - Bad Idea

        The 'Do Not Talk To Police' video includes some good examples of ways that inexpertly "defending yourself" when talking to police can go Badly Wrong. Such as saying "I don't even own a gun!" ... "Did I say that a gun was used?" is the reply. Now you've put yourself in a bad place. ("Gee, why did I think he was killed with a gun? ...") You're on the defensive and go off on a tangent trying to explain how you came to say what you just did, when you don't exactly know yourself.

        "Gun" was mentioned by someone other than the interrogating officer, somewhere else, where no audio capture devices were in operation. At trial, this other person (oddly) can't recall saying such a thing. Clearly the defendant (YOU) knew from first hand knowledge that a gun was used.

        While you are stammering along trying to get out of that, you think of another reason why you are innocent, but in your telling of it some inconsistencies become apparent to the interrogator, which of course they let slide... no they do NOT.

        Now you are even more worried and rattled than before and you resort to simply making something up (how could they know?) But they do know and now you are on the string for Lying to Police Officers. Gee, why would an innocent person do that?

        Just keep your mouth shut!!

      4. strum

        >then the magistrate is entitled to think, or the judge is entitled to tell the jury, why is that?

        The obvious reply is 'I have been advised to remain silent'.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This isn't just a judicial matter, but a personal and social one.

    I was married to a woman who completely messed with my head by asserting all sorts of things had happened that hadn't. I'm pretty sure lots of emotionally abusive relationships are underpinned by this implanting of memories, deliberately or otherwise, by those who emotionally abuse.

    During the divorce, I became aware that she was able to plant false memories in others: a social worker took me to task for "bringing up the issue of contact in front of the children". I said I didn't; she told the judge I did. Later, she and her parents said that I had been aggressive towards her (the ex-wife) in their presence. I said, I didn't; they presented sworn affidavits that I did.

    Fortunately, by the time it got this far, I was recording everything. Even more fortunately, despite very hard bargaining from her solicitors, the judge agreed to admit the recording. This proved the case conclusively, and that was the turning point. I explained that my ex was so good at distorting other people's reality that they really started to remember things the way she remembered them - almost always incorrectly. This was because her memory of incidental things (what the children were wearing, what time the clock had chimed, where I had parked) was absolutely 100% perfect. Anything with an emotional content, she remembered in a distorted fashion. When she relayed the whole story, with perfect recollection of minor details, and totally altered major components, other people started to believe it. Not so remarkable but, like the scenarios described in this article, when she 'went over it' (repeatedly) with people who had actually been there, even they started to believe it the way she remembered it, often without even realising their memory was being edited.

    You may find it hard to credit, but the first thing I thought when faced with her account and sworn affidavits was that I must have just lost it, but somehow blanked the fact that I had --- in an incident which was barely 2 days in the past! I had to listen to *my own recording* three times before I was actually confident that my initial recollection of the situation (that I had stayed completely calm througout) was the correct one. The first two times I got to the end of the recording, and thought - I must have missed it, I have to play it again!

    I cannot bear to think about how the case may have panned out for me without the reliability of little digital audio recorders. But if you, or someone you care about, is in a relationship with someone who is interfering with their memory, I urge you --- do something about it *now*.

  20. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge


    "'By empirically demonstrating the harm 'bad' interview techniques – those which are known to cause false memories – can cause, we can more readily convince interviewers to avoid them and to use 'good' techniques instead,' Shaw said."

    Or, do it Texas style -- the deep south in general, and Texas in particular, they generally have the attitude that if someone was picked up by the police to begin with, they did it (whatever "it" may be). I'm quite sure they'll be interested in these techniques -- in order to "ensure a conviction."

  21. David Pollard

    Deconditioning afterwards?

    There doesn't seem to be any mention of efforts to mitigate after-effects. I can't help but wonder that, albeit conducted in a reasonable environment, programmes such as this might be rather upsetting for the participants; and adverse effects could appear quite a while after the tests. Perhaps follow-up studies in five and ten years time will shed light on this aspect.

  22. Allan George Dyer

    "I remember there was a study a few years ago where they planted false memories in children. "

    Are you SURE you remember?

  23. shamus21

    Well the conclusion to this for me is that it is just one more example of how easy it is to re-program the human brain or organic computer.

  24. <shakes head>

    The point is not the confession

    The point of this is the witnesses who WILL talk to the police, but may have their memories coloured in for them with additional details, that may more may not be true.

  25. Meerkatjie

    I remember watching a TED(?) talk where a criminal lawyer said you should not say anything to the police. Because anything you say will be twisted and paraphrased back at you and when you don't completely agree with there version then all of a sudden your memory is faulty and you are now guilty.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I had this years ago, I was pulled in as a teenager for a burglary I knew nothing about and after 8 hours questioning in shifts (starting at midnight) I was ready to sign a confession. They let me go, presumably because the crime I was induced to cough to had nothing to do with the real one, if such ever existed.

    Traumatic in the extreme, and commonplace I am certain.

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