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Teesside academic to share knowledge at international event


Jun 25, 2017

A Teesside University academic at the forefront in helping police and the courts engage with vulnerable witnesses has been invited to Italy to share her expertise at an international event.

Dr Kimberly Collins is trained as a forensic interviewer and intermediary, assisting in court cases and police interviews involving vulnerable witnesses. She has trained police forces in developmentally appropriate practice and rapport building with young children as part of their investigative interviews.

Her work as an intermediary led the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to invite Dr Collins to its five-day international training event on human trafficking. She is one of a handful of British practitioners invited to take part.

Dr Collins said: “It is an interesting opportunity as it will involve simulations of real trafficking incidents, working with practitioners from across the world to investigate cases with suspects, and vulnerable victims and witnesses.

“I will draw from my work as intermediary working with vulnerable people and children and adapt those principles to assisting the investigations of human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is an issue which has grown globally through conflict and subsequent migration, which has led to some people being exploited and not protected. It is something which needs to be dealt with on a global economic level.

“One of the difficulties in investigating human trafficking is identifying suspects and victims. There can be mixed perceptions regarding whether a witness is a victim or suspect and it is important to conduct interviews using ethical and appropriate practices in order to facilitate disclosure. Assessment of the witness by an intermediary is an important aspect of this, as assessment findings can inform appropriate interview practice and ultimately lead to best evidence from vulnerable people.

“The issue of vulnerable witnesses experienced a lot of media coverage following the recent BBC drama Three Girls where there was controversy surrounding appropriate practice with vulnerable individuals.

“The introduction of intermediaries over the past ten years has helped to bring a positive shift in the criminal justice system and the ways in which practitioners elicit evidence from vulnerable people. An intermediary can help to ensure that the victim, who may have previously been exploited, can provide their best possible evidence.

“Perceptions and the treatment of vulnerable people had to change and the use of intermediaries has been central to this change. This shift in perceptions is vital with human trafficking cases too.”

Dr Collins’ academic research examines the work of the intermediary and the impact of helping vulnerable people to communicate in police interviews and court hearings.

She added: “Taking part in this event provides an opportunity to work with practitioners and share best practice at an international level. The organisers are keen to learn more about British practice with vulnerable witnesses too, as the use of intermediaries is not yet practised widely internationally. In turn, I will learn a lot about international practice to help inform my teaching.”

By Emily