‘Are you going to tell me the truth today?’: Invoking obligations of honesty in police-suspect interviews.


  • Kelly Benneworth-Gray University of York




Investigative interview, police, suspect, sex offender, honesty, truth, discourse


Current police interviewing guidelines describe the investigative interview as a ‘search for truth’ (National Crime Faculty 2004). A wealth of social science literature treats ‘truth’ in the criminal justice system, like ‘honesty’, ‘lies’ and ‘deception’, as a product of individual intent and decision-making – an absolute which can be systematically observed and measured. Discourse analytic and conversation analytic methods were used to examine how police interviewers talked about ‘truth’ and ‘honesty’ in three interviews with adult males suspected of sexual offences against children. What do references to ‘truth’ and ‘honesty’ look like? Where are they positioned? How are they managed sequentially? The analysis revealed that ‘truth’ and ‘honesty’ are locally invoked interactional resources, produced, recognised and contested in two very different sequential environments. Firstly, the interviewers set up a contractual obligation to ‘tell the truth’ at the outset of the interviews. These obligations comprise an expectation of truth, a direct request for truth and a reciprocal offer of truth. This contractual obligation is then revisited later in the interview as a resource to mark disjuncture between the testimonies of the suspect and the alleged victim and construct the suspect’s testimony as implausible. This article outlines some of the implications of these observations for the development of interviewing practice.

Author Biography

  • Kelly Benneworth-Gray, University of York
    Kelly Benneworth-Gray is a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of York, UK. She has a long-standing interest in the application of Discourse Analysis and Conversation Analysis to interaction in institutional settings, particularly forensic and legal contexts. Most recently she has examined how police and suspects talk about sex offences and the implications for investigative interviewing practice in the UK. She has contributed to The Handbook of Forensic Linguistics (Routledge) and The Language of Sexual Crime (Palgrave Macmillan), and has published in the International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, Behavioural Sciences and the Law, and Discourse and Society.






How to Cite

Benneworth-Gray, K. (2015). ‘Are you going to tell me the truth today?’: Invoking obligations of honesty in police-suspect interviews. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 21(2), 251-277. https://doi.org/10.1558/ijsll.v21i2.251