Protecting adults at risk in London: Good practice resource
Investigating adult abuse
It is vital that the accounts of any adults at risk, witnesses and suspects are obtained in a way that does not affect their admissibility in the courts. If an allegation of crime is made it is important to follow some central principles:
- Phone 999 for the police and/or an ambulance in an emergency, as appropriate.
- Listen carefully to what is being said and reassure the person that what they are saying will be taken seriously. Often an individual will feel that they will not be believed.
- Only ask questions to establish what has happened and find out if the adult or another person is at immediate risk of harm. Only ask questions to establish the basic facts, and no more. Make a record of the person’s name, the name of any carer or other persons present when they are spoken to, the questions asked and the answers provided - as verbatim (word for word) as possible. Record as exactly as possible what the person said and make a note of the time, date and where they made the comment. If notes are recorded in this way they are more likely to be allowed as evidence in court. Taking notes at the time of talking to the adult at risk or immediately afterwards, is a matter of judgement. Sometimes taking notes when someone is in distress could be insensitive. However, this should be weighed against the need to record accurately. A note should also be made of the adult’s physical appearance, in particular any visible injuries and missing or damaged items of clothing. If the adult is still at the location of the incident, take a description of any damage that is visible (for further details see Seeing and speaking to the adult at risk).
- Some adults may not wish to pursue a criminal allegation but the police will continue to secure and preserve evidence and a crime report will be recorded. While adults have a right to make decisions about their lives, including those related to their own vulnerability, in some circumstances the adult at risk’s wishes may be overridden given considerations about their own safety or that of others.
- It is important to note the impact on any investigation if forensic or other evidence is contaminated, lost or damaged. The overriding principle is the safety of the adult or others involved.
- Do not make promises that may not be kept regarding confidentiality. If there is evidence of a serious crime or other factors are involved, then it is your duty to share the information.
- Take steps to preserve evidence where possible and explain this to the police. It is equally important to tell them if you have moved or touched something that might be relevant. Police officers assigned to investigate a crime are responsible for the gathering and preservation of evidence generally. Other organisations and individuals can play an important part in ensuring that evidence is not contaminated or lost by taking steps to preserve evidence when a crime is first discovered or suspected.
- Let the adult know who will be informed, and offer support.
- Do not speak to the person alleged to have caused the harm about the allegation (as opposed to other essential welfare matters) without checking with the police first. Such an action could place both you and others at risk and may compromise the investigation.
- In all situations where an adult has been abused and a crime may have been committed, the first consideration must be the person’s safety and respect for their dignity and rights. The person’s need for support must be met at this stage.
By observing these simple rules you will assist the victim and ensure that evidence is obtained in a professional manner and that any criminal prosecution will not be jeopardised.
In this section
- Support for the victim
- Sexual assault - issues to consider
- Physical assault - issues to consider
- Financial or material abuse - issues to consider
- Neglect and acts of omission - issues to consider
- Forced marriage - issues to consider