Adult witness with a neurological condition

Tom, aged 85, had a severe stroke which left him paralysed down the 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 when ‘helping’ by collecting his pension from the bank each week. He reported this and the police were called. With gesturing and waving of his bank book, Tom told a woman police officer what in essence 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 difficulties with understanding and speech, and find out more about his hearing. It was possible for Tom to communicate in a range of ways in spite of the language difficulties caused by his stroke. Strategies employed included pictures, rough sketching by Tom, use of an alphabet board and number chart, availability of everyday objects for pointing; 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.

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 event he used lip reading, gestures, a very rough sketch, visual aids provided by the RI plus some items pulled from the bag on his wheelchair. This videoed interview spanned much of a whole day, including breaks; and a lot of evidence was obtained.

The case did not reach court which was a disappointment to Tom, the officer and the intermediary who had all worked very hard. This was one person’s word against another so 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.