Investigation Meetings – Questions & Witnesses

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Listening

This is the vital part of conducting an investigation meeting. Effective listening will help an investigator get a better understanding of the people they interview and their points of view. Typical actions that an investigator should follow include:

  • have a list of pre-planned questions to follow and tick off
  • remain focused on the witness and the reasons for the meeting
  • concentrate on exactly what the witness says
  • be open minded to anything the witness may say
  • acknowledge the witness’ viewpoint
  • listen for points that the interviewee avoids covering or giving details on
  • allow the witness to finish their point before moving the interview on or asking a further question
  • use silence to encourage the interviewee to elaborate on points

Body language

An investigator should think about their body language and consider how their actions may be perceived. Typical actions that can help to reassure an interviewee that the meeting will be conducted impartially, fairly and professionally include:

  • facing the interviewee in a relaxed body posture
  • being calm
  • not folding arms, which can be intimidatory
  • giving an appropriate amount of eye contact
  • giving appropriate affirmative facial expressions and gestures, such as nodding

An investigator should be careful to avoid making judgements based on an interviewee’s body language. Where there is some discomfort or unease, an investigator could ask, in a sensitive way, why the interviewee is acting in a particular way, remembering that an interview of this sort can be stressful.


Questioning techniques

An investigator should be able to ask questions that challenge and test the credibility of the information being given in a manner that is professional and does not intimidate an interviewee.  There are a number of different types of questions an investigator may use during an investigation meeting to help them control the meeting and gather the full facts of the matter from the interviewee.

Open questions:

Encourage an interviewee to open up. They can provide a rich source of information that an investigator can then go on to explore in more detail.

For example:

  • Explain to me exactly what you saw…
  • Describe exactly what happened…
  • Talk me through what you heard…

Closed / specific questions:

Usually give a Yes, No or definite answer. They can be helpful to gather specific facts and can help focus an overly talkative interviewee.

For example:

  • What time did you leave your workplace?
  • How many times did that happen?
  • Did you speak to your manager about that?
  • Who else was there?

Probing questions:

Can test the strength of an interviewee’s account and challenge any inconsistencies. However, it is important to phrase these questions so they are inquisitive rather than interrogative.

For example:

  • When you say she was aggressive what exactly do you mean by aggressive?
  • You mentioned earlier that X… tell me more about that.

Feelings questions:

Can help to focus an interviewee on what is important to them and reveal their beliefs. However, they should be used sparingly as the meeting is mainly to establish the actual facts of a matter.

For example:

  • What was important to you about that?
  • What is your main concern about what happened?

Asking “What else?”:

Helps an investigator to probe deeper beyond the initial information provided. However, care needs to be taken to ask this sensitively.

For example:

  • What else can you tell me about what happened?
  • What else do I need to know about the matter?

Summaries:

Provide an opportunity to check that the correct information is recorded. They also allow the interviewee to reflect on what they have said, to correct any inaccuracies and to give further details where there are gaps.

For example:

  • So can I clarify that what you are telling me is that you left your workplace at 10am because there was a problem at home and you did not return to work. Have I got that right?

Questions to be avoided

Interrogative questions:

The aim of the investigation is to establish the facts rather than interrogate someone. Although sometimes necessary, “Why” questions can make people defensive and close up.
For example:

  • Instead of “Why did you do that?”, use “What made you decide to do that?”

Leading questions:

These can lead the interviewee to provide the answer the investigator hopes or expects to hear.

For example:

  • Instead of “Do you think he was perhaps over reacting?”, use “What did you think of his reaction?”

Multiple questions:

Lead to confusion and the interviewee will answer what they heard first, last or the part they are most comfortable answering.

For example:

  • Instead of “What is your role, do you like it and why?”, ask each question individually.

Reluctant witnesses

Some employees may be reluctant to provide evidence for an investigation. An investigator should explore why an employee is reluctant to give evidence, provide reassurance and seek to resolve any concerns they have.

An investigator should try to avoid anonymising witness statements whenever possible. This is because an employee under investigation is likely to be disadvantaged when evidence is anonymonised as they will not be able to effectively challenge the evidence against them.

Only in exceptional circumstances where a witness has a genuine fear of reprisals should an investigator agree that a witness statement is anonymised. However, if the matter becomes subject to legal proceedings, and it is necessary in the interests of fairness, an employer may be required to disclose the names of any anonymous witnesses.


Witness statements

A witness statement will usually be a signed copy of the notes from an investigation meeting. An interviewee should be given a copy of their statement taken at the investigation meeting to check that they agree it is accurate. This should be done as soon as possible after the meeting so that memories are still fresh. Once the interviewee has checked the document they should sign the statement confirming it is an accurate reflection of the conversation.

An investigator may want a witness statement to be typed up. However, when the original notes from the meeting are clear they could be given to the interviewee immediately after the meeting.

An interviewee should be allowed to amend their statement but should sign any amendments they make to the original document. Where changes to the statement are made that an investigator believes contradict what was said at the meeting, it may be necessary to note this and include both the original statement and the amended statement in the report.

If an interviewee refuses to sign their statement, an investigator should try to find out why and resolve the issue. If a resolution cannot be reached, an investigator should include the statement in their report while acknowledging that the interviewee refused to confirm that it was an accurate reflection of the meeting.


When might a statement be provided without a meeting?

An investigator may sometimes decide that a witness statement can be supplied without a meeting in circumstances such as:
if a witness is not a worker

  • when the facts required from a witness are very simple
  • where a witness is ill and unable to attend an investigation meeting

An investigator should provide a reasonable deadline for completion and ask the witness to answer specific questions or to include in their statement:

  • their name and, where applicable, job title
  • the date, place and time of any relevant issues
  • what they saw, heard or know
  • the reason why they were able to see, hear or know about the issues
  • the date and time of statement
  • their signature

A witness statement supplied in writing will be of limited use where there are doubts about the witness’s account or the witness needs to be probed for further details.

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