EastEnders explores rape: Part 3 – witness interviews

9 November 2018

In part 1 of this series, we looked at the issue of consent in EastEnders’ latest controversial and compelling storyline. The action revolves around a rape allegation made by Ruby Allen against two men she went back to a house party with on a drunken night out. The full background is set out in part 1 our blog here.

In part 2, we followed how Ruby reported the allegation to the police. Now Ruby’s friends, Martin and Stacey, are being interviewed as witnesses and in this blog, we look at how this would really unfold.  

What the viewers saw

Stacey and her husband Martin, who were also at the club on the night in question, were asked by the police to be interviewed as witnesses. Viewers see Stacey begging Martin not to tell the police about a photograph he has on his phone, which shows Ruby kissing Matt, the man she is accusing of rape. Martin feels uncomfortable about this and tells Stacey that ‘this is the Old Bill, you have got to be sure.’

We also see clips of Stacey’s and Martin’s witness interviews which are held in dark rooms with very stern looking police officers. Stacey tells the officer that Ruby is very shy and this is not like her at all. She also tells the officer the men were buying her shots and ‘competing’ for her in the club.

Martin is shown with a particularly stony faced officer who threatens ‘serious ramifications’ if he is withholding information. Martin’s account is drastically different to Stacey’s as he tells the officer Ruby was outgoing, laughing and flirting. He also bows to the pressure and shows the officer the picture of Ruby kissing Matt on his phone.

How realistic was this…?

Stacey and Martin are ‘significant witnesses’ in Ruby’s account. Significant witnesses, sometimes referred to as ‘key’ witnesses, are those who ‘by their relationship to a victim, witness or suspect or by their proximity to events may hold vital information which would, if accurately obtained, be crucial to the progress and direction of an investigation.

Stacey was the first person who Ruby told about the events on the night in question, which is significant because the first account has a particular legal weight and is often perceived as the most accurate account of an event. Martin heard the initial accounts of Ross and Matt the very next morning. The police will seek to identify other people that were at the nightclub or after party to interview as well.

Interviews are a means by which an investigator can both obtain and impart information. There is no obligation to attend the interview and witnesses are allowed to be accompanied by a solicitor to the interview if they wish (although they will have to pay for this themselves).

Many witnesses worry about providing information. Martin clearly felt apprehensive about attending the police station and intimidated when the officer warned him that there would be ‘serious consequences’ if he did not hand over all the information.

This depiction of a police interview is highly simplistic and the concept of there being ‘serious repercussions’ for not providing information is much more nuanced than it is made out in the scene.

Of course, witnesses must not deliberately provide false or inaccurate information nor deliberately omit information which may make their account misleading. Where such deliberate action is intended to frustrate or affect a police investigation, an offence of perverting the course of justice can be committed and it is a very serious offence with significant consequences.

Martin is aware that the picture he has on his phone could be relevant to establishing whether Matt had a reasonable belief in Ruby’s consent to sexual contact later in the evening. It is not clear how much impact failing to hand over the picture would have on the police investigation but, if witnesses choose to engage at all, they are encouraged to co-operate fully to ensure that the investigation can be carried out as fairly expeditiously as possible. It is unlikely that not handing over the picture would amount to Martin being found to have hampered the police investigation and it is certainly not as clear cut as the officer makes out.

The College of Policing Guidance sets out that witnesses have a right to expect that they will be listened to and will receive fair treatment. Officers are encouraged to engage with the interviewee and to ensure the questioning is appropriate. The threatening tone of the officer and the dark and sinister setting of the interview make the process seem much more intimidating than it should be in reality.

An accurate record of the interview must also be made. A copy of the record must be given to the witness and also, if the witness consents, to the accused or accused solicitor.

In the majority of cases, investigators can support witnesses by providing them with relevant information about the progress of the investigation and of any significant developments throughout the investigation.

What happens next?

The suspects in this case, Ross and Matt, will also be interviewed by the police. In a future instalment of this series, we will look at how those accused of an offence are interviewed by the police.

Further information

For further information on the issues raised in this blog post, please contact a member of our criminal litigation team in confidence.

You may also be interested in reading some of our other blogs around consent:

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