In collaboration with frontline officers, senior leaders and researchers, we have developed evidence-based guidelines on obtaining initial accounts from victims and witnesses.

The guidelines include evidence-based recommendations on eliciting victim and witness initial (first) accounts. These recommendations are designed to improve the accuracy and quantity of information provided by witnesses and victims in their first account to the police.

Initial accounts guidelines include:

  • Ten practical guidelines for first responders obtaining initial accounts
  • Two strategic-level recommendations for senior officers
  • Four recommendations for future research to fill a gap in the evidence


Download the guidelines


Public consultation

Although a limited consultation has taken place with forces and partners, this is the first time the guidelines have been released to the wider public. A six week consultation period for the guidelines will take place from 12 September to 24 October 2018. Our intention is to provide an opportunity for the public, forces and partners to share their views on this piece of work, and we welcome your feedback.

Please submit your comments by downloading the consultation feedback form and email to initial.accounts.guidance@college.pnn.police.uk

The College of Policing may not be able to respond to individual feedback, however, all comments will be considered.

Please contact us if you require the content in an alternative format.


Summary of guidelines

 

Guideline 1: Rapport building

Officers and staff should, wherever possible, take steps to build and maintain rapport with the witness throughout the interaction.
Evidence-base: Overall strength of the empirical evidence ​■■

Guideline 2: Witness separation

Officers and staff should separate witnesses to take initial accounts and make sure they are out of earshot of other witnesses, unless this is not possible.
Evidence-base: Overall strength of the empirical evidence​ ■■


Guideline 3: Clarifying sources of information

Throughout the first account, officers and staff should clarify the source of the information the witness is providing, for example by asking 'Did you see this yourself?'
Evidence-base: Overall strength of the empirical evidence ■■■


Guideline 4: Alcohol intoxication

Officers and staff can take an initial account from an intoxicated person.
Evidence-base: Overall strength of the empirical evidence ​■
Practitioner evidence available


Guideline 5: Witnesses' own words and open questioning

Officers and staff should allow the witness to give an account in their own words, using open questions where possible, to obtain sufficient reliable information to determine next steps.
Evidence-base: Overall strength of the empirical evidence ​■■


Guideline 6: Non-leading approach to questioning

Officers and staff should gather information in an objective way and remain neutral if giving feedback, both verbal and non-verbal, to the witness on the information they are providing.
Evidence-base: Overall strength of the empirical evidence ​■■


Guideline 7: Allowing uncertainty

If a witness is unable to be specific then the officer or staff should not push them to provide an answer.
Evidence-base: Overall strength of the empirical evidence ​■■


Guideline 8: Suggesting eye closure

In some circumstances, the officer may suggest that the witness close their eyes if they need help to focus and recall more detail.
Evidence-base: Overall strength of the empirical evidence ​■■


Guideline 9: Advice on information exposure

After taking an initial account, officers and staff should consider advising witnesses that exposure to other sources of information about the event may affect their recollection and where possible it should be avoided. If it is unavoidable, the witness should be advised to make a note of the sources.
Evidence-base: Overall strength of the empirical evidence ​■■


Guideline 10: Identify and record vulnerability and needs

Officers and staff should seek to identify and record any apparent witness needs and vulnerabilities, including reported and observed demeanour, reluctance, and physical or communication needs, to inform future decision making.
Evidence-base: Practitioner evidence available.


Key: Overall strength of the empirical evidence ​

​■■■Good
​■■Moderate
​■Limited

 

Development process

This guidance was developed by the College Initial Accounts Guideline Committee according to the College of Policing pilot process. The process involves bringing together an independent committee of academics, practitioner topic experts and frontline practitioners who collectively review the best available evidence and agree whether any guidelines for policing practice can and should be made. The evidence presented to the committee includes evidence from the best available research in the topic area together with expertise elicited directly from practitioners.

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