Motor neurone disease affecting speech

Donald had Motor Neurone Disease which severely affected both his mobility and his speech. He was 52 years old.

On returning slowly along the pavement from the barber’s shop, he witnessed a brutal attack on a local woman who was frail and unable to defend herself. Donald could not come to her rescue because of his own condition but dialled 999; and an ambulance and police arrived soon after.

The woman sustained very severe head wounds so spent many weeks in hospital. Donald was the only witness, but his speech difficulties made it extremely hard to give evidence that was audible and intelligible at his first videoed interview. National Crime Agency was contacted by the interviewing officer and an RI was requested.

The RI assessment involved testing of volume and clarity of Donald’s speech; and assessing the relative intelligibility of phrases of different lengths. It was useful to compare the effectiveness of Donald’s when seated in different positions, and with the microphone at different distances. lastly there was discussion of the timing of his medications during the day. The RI and officer planned a second police interview, to be held at a time to suit Donald’s medication regime. Donald was then enabled to give a more intelligible account of the attack.

Before the trial, some months later, the RI met the judge and barristers at a Ground Rules Hearing, to consider Donald’s mobility limitations, his drug regime, optimal times for giving evidence, and other factors which tended to affect his speech. On the day of cross-examination, Donald and a portable microphone would be positioned optimally in the video link room to enable him to be heard in the court. The RI would advise barristers how to rephrase some questions, if need be, so that his answers need not be long and complex.

In the event, having viewed Donald’s interview DVDs on the day of trial, the two defendants pleaded guilty. They could see that he was determined to give clear evidence, against all the odds.

For an example of a real, high profile case where an intermediary used highly specialised equipment and expertise to support a man with failing speech due to motor neuron disease see an article from the Independent here