With nearly 20 years experience in conducting both criminal and corporate investigations, I can guarantee that I will be asked after an interview or an investigation meeting "Do you think they are telling the truth?"
It’s an obvious, natural question to ask, but the reality is - it doesn't matter what I think. My role is to remain independent and conduct a thorough investigation - whether it’s a criminal or employment law case, all lines of enquiry should be reviewed for evidence to both prove and disprove the allegation.
There tend to be distinct camps of those who ask the question -
The “you need a confession otherwise the case is weak” type - the purpose of any part of the investigation is not to get a confession - it does not make a blind bit of difference. I know investigators often feel pressure around this, but it's not a failure if someone doesn't fess-up. The most successful investigations are those where time was taken to get a detailed account and then the investigator went away a probed this looking for supporting evidence. By getting hooked on the confession, there is a tendency to think “job done” but if the confession gets withdrawn during any subsequent court proceedings – then what have you got?
Then there are the “did they keep looking left? They are definitely guilty if so” people- evidence shouldn't be based on whether the individual looked left, was sweaty or stuttering. It might work in the movies, but sadly it’s not that easy in real life. That’s not to say body language isn’t important but it’s important to remember that these meetings can be stressful for people and therefore some people may exhibit non-verbal gestures because of the stress they are feeling and not because they are guilty. Anyone wanted to read more about this should look up “What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed Reading People” by Joe Navarro and Marvin Karlins.
There are also the “but they said they didn’t do it so they didn’t do it” folk– They place a lot of weight on everything that is said to them and it can be really tricky for them to decipher what has happened when every account is different. Everyone has their version of the truth, so even if everyone involved in a case is telling the truth, it’s only the truth as they know it. It is only the version of events, as their brain processed it based on their previous experiences, things they noticed and will be impacted by their conscious and unconscious biases. Add into the mix those who are lying, which they may be doing for many reasons - to protect themselves, to protect others, to minimize what they have done, to try and appease the investigator and get questioning to end. It's a really difficult process and, in all honesty, you cannot ever know for sure, just from what someone is saying, whether they are telling the truth. It is why investigators must look beyond that discussion and look at the supporting evidence and for corroboration. What detail, in the different version of events is backed up, either by others or by physical evidence?
If we aren’t getting the answer from these meetings and the accounts can unreliable, why do we have investigation meetings/ interviews? It's important to give people a chance to tell their side of the story, so they have a voice. It also helps provide lines of enquiry. Once an account has been obtained in as much detail as possible it should be probed. Not to trick the person and catch them out, but to ensure their account is fully understood and see if there is an innocent explanation for any discrepancies. A common but cheesy saying investigators have, which is true, is “never assume anything, because it makes an ass out of u and me”.
"Do I think they are telling the truth?". Maybe yes, maybe no, it's not my job to say…..