What to do if you’re ever arrested for a criminal offence
Stuff happens. I was arrested for a criminal offence and was on bail for three years before the case against me was dropped in a UK Crown Court. I was confused, angry, in fact, mad as hell, so I tried to be creative and ending up writing two books about it. I intend to include abridged extracts here on Medium. It might be of use or interest to someone some day. In summary, listen to the duty solicitor in the police station. Here’s how the first police interview went:
I met the duty solicitor, Alex, by the booking-in counter just as he was signing off duties with his previous client. A tall, burly man, he immediately advised me that his colleague would arrive shortly (she was even in the station). He would hand me over responsibility for my interview to her, but in the meantime he would start the pre-interview solicitor chat.
I did wonder whether he knew the charges and whether this would affect his wish to defend me (who would, on such an allegation?). He seemed remarkably relaxed and matter-of-fact — busy perhaps, but indifferent to the reason for arrest (as did the police officers around the counter, including DC Hopkins). Was I the only one vexed by the nature of the day’s events? There were no disgusted looks, no coldness, just everyday office banter between people who deal with each other every day. I was just another case on his conveyor belt of cases, but there was something reassuring about his emotionally detached manner.
Alex and I were shown into a consultation room. My mouth being dry (largely because of anxiety) I asked for a couple of plastic cups of water. Seated together in the room, he scanned the one page document from the police.
‘They have nothing. I suggest you just decline to comment on all the questions they ask,’ he said matter-of-factly.
I sought clarification.
‘We just say ‘no comment’ to anything,’ he replied.
This unsettled me, ‘Isn’t that what guilty people do?’ I asked.
He shook his head. ‘No.’
‘Can I look at that?’ I said nodding toward the piece of paper in his hand, still unsettled.
The top half of the police’s document listed administrative details: name, date and a statement saying that I had been arrested on suspicion of downloading indecent images. The lower half of the page was a section in which further details, evidence and reasoning could be listed. It was blank. Blank but for one line which had been CAPITALISED.
It was one line I uttered to my mother on the stairs that morning minutes after the arrival of the police — ‘I might have had pop-ups and maybe I clicked something’, but with capitalisation it read: ‘I MIGHT HAVE HAD POP-UPS AND MAYBE I CLICKED SOMETHING’ which to me was shouting the phrase and, unless it was the house style, lent it an importance that was wholly unwarranted.
There was no ‘evidence’ as such and no reference to the ‘intelligence’ that had triggered the visit in the first place. The backbone of the document seemed to be a passing speculative reference I had made trying to explain the madness of that morning, yet it looked to me (and anybody else reading it) that the words were ‘an admission’. There was no reference to the discussion about the housemates, the reference to it being all ‘adult stuff’, my cooperation and the confusion I had expressed during the visit. It was a phrase taken out of context and wholly misleading. I was aghast.
‘No, they have nothing. They’re fishing,’ said Alex. ‘Say nothing.’
I expressed concerns that this might imply guilt, but again Alex assured me it didn’t. After a few short minutes, the door opened and my designated solicitor, Alex’s colleague, Alison, entered. After introductions and greetings, Alex left and Alison sat.
Alison was a similar age to myself. She was dressed in a trouser-suit and looked the part of a busy, no-nonsense solicitor familiar with (and even contemptuous of) the police. She reviewed the one-page document and, like Alex, said without a moment’s hesitation, ‘Say nothing — reply “no comment” to all questions’.
I expressed my dismay that the phrase had been taken out of context, but voiced my concern, even discomfort, at saying nothing in the police interview. After all I just wanted to sort it all out. Alison remained adamant and began briefing me on what would happen in the interview itself.
She said that the detective would start the tape then list those people who were present in the room and I would be expected to confirm my name. DC Lauren Hopkins would read out my rights whereupon she would ask me whether I understood at which point I should say ‘no comment’. Alison asked me if I understood.
‘Yes,’ I said.
She shook her head. ‘No, say “no comment”,’ she said, much like she would to an errant child.
Okay, I nodded.
‘Do you want some water?’
‘Yes, please,’ I sighed, gratefully. In the circumstances my mouth was drying out every few minutes.
‘No comment!’ Alison spat, slapping both hands firmly on the table.
Okay, I nodded, meekly and wondering if I was going to get any more water.
‘Say ‘no comment’ to everything they ask, because if you start answering some questions, but not others, then they will work it against us.’
Okay, noted. That makes things a little easier. ‘How long would it last?’
‘Forty-five minutes maybe.’
No doubt it would seem longer.
After a further discussion on what happens after the interview (namely, a little debriefing), I should then be bailed to reappear for another interview. And so we left the safety of the interview room and headed to the police custody desk.
We met DC Hopkins and her police colleague, PC Walters, who had been present at the house search that morning. After a request for more water we headed down a tight corridor to an interview room. Roughly square and without windows, it was more like a sound booth than an interview room. Pushed up against the wall there was a small table around which four chairs could just fit (with enough space for one person to move around). A double-decked tape recorder sat against the wall on the end of the table. The room was illuminated by a few spotlights in the ceiling that did little to offer warmth to the environment. The walls were covered with what appeared to be a sound absorbing material. I was directed to the far seat of the table (beside the wall) and opposite DC Hopkins. My solicitor, Alison, sat next to me.
DC Hopkins unwrapped tapes for the recording machine. PC Walters appeared with four paper cups of water (all for me) before taking a seat beside the arresting officer and opposite Alison. The mood was all smiles and cheerfulness. There was no sort of intimidation. It was all just routine for the other three individuals in the room. The audio tapes began to roll and DC Hopkins started by listing those present and asked me to confirm my name, which I did. I was asked whether I understood the charges and my rights which DC Hopkins had just repeated for the benefit of the tape. I glanced at Alison beside me, took a breath and said, ‘I’ve been advised to say no comment’.
DC Hopkins and PC Walters noted my reply. I detected a hint of disappointment that they now knew how the interview was going to go. Alison, as promised in our meeting, confirmed for the tape the advice she had given to her client (me): ‘…. At the moment disclosure is inadequate for me to fully advise my client. I haven’t been told when the incident occurred, why you think there are images on the computer, whether any images have been found on the computer or even whether you’ve looked at the computer …. So for this reason I’m now advising you not to answer any questions.’
DC Hopkins began reading from a thick, stapled set of papers — perhaps thirty pages — which was deeply unsettling. How long had they been compiling this dossier on me? But the questions started very broadly — my current home arrangements: who lived there; were there locks on the doors; did other people have access to my rooms; visitors and their access.
At this point my solicitor Alison chipped in with a question of her own.
‘Just to reiterate: the reason my client is answering “no comment” is, as we’ve heard from the interview disclosure, the “suggestion” that my client downloaded indecent images of children when living at the previous address in Meadow Road. Would you like to explain why you are now asking him about Shrub Lane?’
‘Yeah, well, I’ll explain that to David,’ DC Hopkins responded. ‘The reason I’m asking questions about that address is because we are going to look at the computers to see if there are any indecent images on those computers. (Or if there is proof they have been present and been deleted.) Now, clearly you could have downloaded images at your current address as well. So that’s why I need to know about where you live now and who has access to your room. Do you understand?’
I was not entirely convinced, but let it go. ‘No comment.’
‘Does your bedroom have a lock on the door?’
‘No comment.’ (There had never been a lock on any bedroom door.)
And so it continued. Then the same questions were repeated for my old residence in Meadow Road. Who lived there? Were there locks on the doors? Were there passwords on my computers? When did I buy the computer? Who had access to the computers? Software? Who installed it? Which Internet Service Provider? Any Internet chatroom use? Did I have a username profile for websites?
‘No comment; no comment; no comment,’ was my repeated response.
It slowly dawned that she was reading a pro forma list of questions. I waited for a specific question such as: Where was I on such-and-such a date? Do I know Mr X? How long have I known him? Your credit card ending in 1234, what do you use it for? Can you tell us how your email address came to be listed on this email circular? Did you sign up for this list?
But nothing. All very, very general. Every question asked in that room could be asked of any other person seated at that table (and even their extended families).
As the interview progressed, I didn’t really have to think. As the minutes reached double figures then maybe half-an-hour, I almost stopped listening.
‘No comment. No comment. No comment.’
It was almost easy, but I was never complacent or comfortable. My mouth was still dry and I was sipping water regularly working my way through the four cups of water. Out of water about thirty or forty minutes in, I turned to Alison, held up one of the four empty cups and tapped it politely with a questioning look. I daren’t say anything.
‘Do you think we can take some time to have another glass of water,’ Alison said.
‘Yeah, that’s fine,’ replied the detective, probably welcoming the break herself.
The tapes were turned off for five minutes, cups were refilled and tapes signed off. Things relaxed for a few minutes. I kept my mouth shut. Nothing was said about my responses. We resumed.
There was no clue as to the nature of the intelligence, nor any reason for the police visit to the house. The interview appeared to be moving to a close. DC Hopkins reminded me that I could answer the questions if I so choose to do so:
‘Have you got any questions about the Caution? Have you got any questions so far about anything we’ve covered?’
However, glancing at Alison, I continued with my ‘no comment’ responses.
More general questions followed: Tell me about software; Do you defrag your hard drive? Do you use encryption? Your job role? Do you have any cause to research indecent images?
After a short while, Alison waded in, no doubt to exert a bit of pressure.
‘Officer, have you actually interrogated the computer yet?’
‘We haven’t interrogated the computer.’
‘You don’t even know if there are any images?’
‘We haven’t interrogated the computer,’ DC Hopkins repeated.
‘Do you know if there are any indecent images on my client’s computer at this stage?’
‘No, I don’t know.’
‘So this is a fishing expedition?’
‘It’s not a fishing expedition.’
‘On the disclosure you’ve given me and the fact that you don’t even know there are indecent images on that computer, this is a fishing expedition.’
‘That might be your opinion, but I’m not going to get into an argument about that now. We have intelligence that suggests David has downloaded images, indecent images of children and that’s why we are interviewing you now,’ she said turning to me. ‘We’re giving you an…’
‘And this ‘intelligence’ …,’ Alison persisted.
‘Can you just let me finish?’
‘No, no, because ….’
‘We’re giving you an opportunity now …’
‘… to account for images we may find. We have good reason to believe you’ve downloaded images.’
Alison was having none of it.
‘When you wish to share with us the ‘good reason’ that you believe that, then maybe my client will consider talking to you, but at this stage you’ve disclosed nothing. You’re on a fishing expedition.’
I’ve never had women fight over me before. Contemporaries of mine might have found women fighting over them at wedding receptions, in pubs, at beach parties, in nightclubs, but me, no, it was Police Interview Room 2. I was unsure whether to be pleased for life’s small mercies, or plain disappointed.
‘I have no duty to disclose the intelligence to you, David. This is your first opportunity to make an account, okay? So, I’m going to return to the question that I asked …’
‘My advice to you is not to answer questions,’ Alison chipped in.
‘… that I asked and it’s your choice whether or not to answer it. I’m not forcing you to say anything. When we analyse your computer which we think, we believe you’ve downloaded indecent images of children, do you believe we will find anything?’
Then PC Walters, who had been sitting quietly for over forty minutes, offered his first question. ‘Is it possible that whilst at the Meadow Road address and Shrub Lane anyone could have had access to your computer or computers?’
‘You’re asking my client to speculate,’ snapped Alison. ‘That’s an unfair question. Don’t answer that.’
‘He is asking whether anyone had any access to it to your knowledge,’ DC Hopkins added.
‘That’s a question that’s been asked already, so it’s irrelevant,’ said Alison without missing a beat.
PC Walters rallied. ‘Is it possible that you may have accidentally downloaded indecent images …’
‘You’re asking my client to speculate, don’t answer that question.’
And so it carried on for a few more minutes until I thought I could smell the end.
As the ‘banter’ wound down, I have to confess feeling a grudging respect for the British legal system. To sit in an interview room with agents of the State marshalled on the other side of the table, yet have beside me someone whom I had never met (and who knew virtually nothing about me) doing her best to knock six bells out of the police was a rather special thing. By myself, even as a grown man, I would have been struggling to manage the situation. So, my thinking went, hats off to all those who had come before me for haranguing, debating and agreeing laws and procedures which protected the interests of private citizens (at no cost to the arrested individual) when the unlimited resources of the State were squared up against them across said table. My guess is that if one were to be arrested in any part of the world, one could do a whole lot worse than being arrested in the UK.
‘This is your first opportunity to talk to us,’ DC Hopkins said. ‘If you don’t we may be back here talking about something else. But that is your choice.’
‘Officer, you’re inducing my client to answer questions, you know damn well he’s coming back here because you haven’t investigated the computers yet so he will be back her to answer further questions … It is for you to prove beyond reasonable doubt that an offence has been committed. That’s nearly 99%. So far you don’t even know if there are any images on that computer. So before this turns into an unfair interview and an illegal interview I suggest you move on .… .’
‘You can roll your eyes at me ..’
‘.. but you refer to an illegal interview and also ..’
‘Well, it will become …’
‘Can you just …’
‘… aggressive if you keep asking these questions. It’s a complete fishing expedition.’
After a few more minutes, it ended. It was, as Alison later noted, a list of questions she would ‘certainly like to get her hands on’. I guessed the time to be approaching five o’clock. Leaving the room I was relieved and confused. I had expected more. The questions did not even indicate ‘the nature’ of what the police might have. I exited the room with the curious feeling that it was as if someone had just picked up the phone, called the police, given my name, a place, a date and made an allegation.
Alison and I retired to a consultation room.
‘Well done,’ she said. ‘You did really well.’
Easy praise, I thought, I only had two words to repeat; but I was certainly relieved and even exhausted. Alison and I sat down and quickly deconstructed what little there was to deconstruct.
‘And now what?’ I asked.
‘You’ll be given bail and will be required to return for another interview when they have looked at our computer. We’ll get our guys to look at your computer too.’
‘And what do I do in the meantime?’
‘Nothing,’ Alison replied. ‘There’s nothing you can do.’
MAD AS HELL (Parts 1 and 2) available on Amazon and in bookstores. Further extracts and articles to follow on the law, mental health, court appearances, in fact, the whole three-year, life-defining episode.