Arrest can lead to acute trauma, expert says

Morris tribunal: An expert in interrogation said yesterday that people who are arrested could suffer from post-traumatic stress…

Morris tribunal:An expert in interrogation said yesterday that people who are arrested could suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and certain manipulative techniques could have devastating effects.

Prof Gisli Gudjonsson, professor of forensic psychology, King's College, London, is an internationally renowned authority on interrogation and false confessions whose reports were instrumental in reopening the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four cases, which resulted in their convictions being overturned. He has been involved in many other high-profile cases.

The tribunal is inquiring into the arrest and detention of 12 people in Letterkenny Garda station for suspected involvement in the death of cattle-dealer Richie Barron in October 1996. Since then the tribunal has found that Mr Barron was the victim of a hit and run.

Those 12 arrested have made allegations of mistreatment, including being shown postmortem photographs of Mr Barron, shouting, hair pulling, bad language, intimidation, threats to put their children into care, and having a gun put in their mouths.


One of those arrested was Frank McBrearty jnr who allegedly made a false confession but has denied signing the statement. Mr McBrearty has said he would not give evidence at the tribunal.

The tribunal has stated that Prof Gudjonsson's evidence was potentially relevant to all 12 detentions.

Peter Charleton SC, for the tribunal, asked about the effects of certain techniques which could lead to a state of vulnerability and a false confession.

Prof Gudjonsson said being arrested was a stressful experience. It could be very frightening if it was sudden and was a huge shock. These experiences could lead to anger and resentment, which left people vulnerable.

Mr Charleton asked if it would affect a person if they were deprived of food or having food compared to human brains in photographs.

"Yes, it would. I can't think of a situation where that would be fair," Prof Gudjonsson said.

He was asked if calling somebody "murdering bastard" or using belittling language about relatives could have an effect.

Prof Gudjonsson replied that the language was insulting. If the purpose was to cause anxiety and distress then the impact was a blow to self-esteem, self-respect and would make people feel worse about themselves.

Showing postmortem photographs was distressing to most people, especially if they were not used to seeing such pictures.

Mr Charleton asked if it would be legitimate to slap the photographs down in front of somebody. Prof Gudjonsson replied: "I can't imagine that being a legitimate interviewing technique."

He said there was no doubt that certain events in custody could result in post-traumatic stress syndrome. People sometimes had a delayed reaction and were unable to speak to anybody about it.

Mr Charleton asked what it would indicate if somebody was reluctant to give evidence to the tribunal but then made public statements.

Prof Gudjonsson said that maybe that person did not trust the tribunal and had a general suspicion, or maybe they were just being obstructive and uncooperative.

Mr Charleton asked if somebody who believed everyone was against them and that an independent body seeking the truth had an agenda that was untrue could be suffering a trauma relating to custody.

Prof Gudjonsson said they could be. He had come across cases where people had become paranoid and developed a hyper-sensitivity towards the police.

Speaking generally, Prof Gudjonsson said people could suffer from intrusive thoughts, recurrent nightmares, sleeplessness, and depression.

"There is physical torture by touch. There may be beatings, slapping, hair pulling and so forth. There may be physical torture without touch, painful positions that people are forced into and sleep deprivation," he said.

It was illegal if people were not told their legal rights and "of course if there are threats of violence, threats of detention, threats that your family are going to be arrested, or that your children will be taken into care - those kind of threats".

Those sorts of manipulative techniques, including tricking people into confessions, could have devastating effects, he said.