Suspects' resistance to constraining and coercive questioning strategies in the police interview


  • Phillip Newbury University of Aston
  • Alison Johnson University of Leeds



resistance, questioning strategies, police interview, institutional control, constrain, coerce


Discussions of institutional discourse have frequently focused on asymmetrical power relationships between participants. However, although power and control have been the focus of much critical writing in discourse studies, far less attention has been paid to resistance as an interactional resource. This article uses a qualitative Hallidayan approach to explore questions and responses in an interview between police and Dr Harold Shipman, focusing on resistance strategies employed by him in relation to the institutionally more powerful interviewer. The interviewee actively resists powerful questions through contest, correction, avoidance and refusal, whilst negotiating the costs of resistance, such as challenge to the consensus of control and flouting of the Cooperative Principle (Grice 1975) that would result in presenting an uncooperative speaker. The interview is seen as a site of resistant struggle, where agreement and disagreement are actively negotiated and where each participant attempts to produce different goals and opposing roles.

Author Biographies

Phillip Newbury, University of Aston

Phill Newbury was a doctoral student at Aston University until April 2006 when he collapsed and died as he was weight-lifting. He had an undiagnosed congenital heart problem. He was making rapid progress with his doctoral research, had begun to create a large corpus of courtroom transcripts and had a bright future ahead of him. His boundless energy, infectious enthusiasm, friendliness and generosity will be sadly missed.

Alison Johnson, University of Leeds

Alison Johnson is a lecturer in English language in the School of English at The University of Leeds. She has taught English Language at undergraduate and postgraduate levels at the Universities of Huddersfield and Birmingham in the UK over the last 12 years. Before that she was a police officer engaged in a wide range of operational activities and her research in Forensic Linguistics is therefore informed by and interested in professional practice. Her research draws on and has been disseminated in a wide range of areas: Applied Linguistics, Psychology, Pragmatics, Discourse and Conversation Analysis and Forensic Linguistics. The University of Leeds School of English Leeds LS2 9JT



How to Cite

Newbury, P., & Johnson, A. (2006). Suspects’ resistance to constraining and coercive questioning strategies in the police interview. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 13(2), 213–240.