Adult Witness with a Neurological Condition

Tom, aged 85, had a severe stroke which left him paralysed down his right-hand side. He struggled to talk except in single words and a few short phrases, and he had some hearing difficulties.

While living in his own bungalow, with much community support, Tom discovered that a care worker had been stealing money from him while ‘helping’ by collecting his pension from the bank each week. He reported and the police were called. Tom gestured and waved his bank book to the policewoman, who understood, in essence, what had happened. She realised, having now met Tom, that she would have extreme difficulty interviewing him. But he was clearly eager to tell his story and have the support worker brought to book.

A male RI was requested and went with the police officer to visit Tom, check the extent of his speech and understanding difficulties, and find out more about his hearing. Despite the language difficulties endured by Tom as a result of his stroke, it was still possible for him to communicate in a range of ways. Strategies employed included pictures, rough sketching by Tom, use of an alphabet board and number chart, pointing at everyday objects; and questioning in very short bursts to avoid tiredness. The RI sat very close to Tom so that he would be able to lip read whenever he failed to hear a question.

The officer and RI then planned an interview together. Tom worked with huge concentration and determination to give his evidence, with the intermediary by his side. In the interview, Tom used lip reading, gestures, a very rough sketch, visual aids provided by the RI and some items pulled from the bag on his wheelchair. This video recorded interview spanned much of a whole day, including breaks; and a substantial amount of evidence was obtained.

Much to the disappointment of Tom, the officer and the intermediary, who had all worked very hard, the case did not reach court. The case hinged on one person’s word against another meaning that some supporting evidence was necessary for court. His bank book showed regular, sizeable withdrawals, about which Tom had no knowledge. But unfortunately the CCTV at the bank had been faulty so the support worker was not caught on camera using the ‘hole in the wall’.

Despite his disappointment, Tom was pleased he had been able to explain to the police what happened. His evidence could be used in the future should the young woman be caught taking advantage of another elderly person.