Not a good look?

Adrian Skinner on the Society's Memory-Based Evidence Task and Finish Group, with a response from the Chair of the Research Board.

Society members will be concerned to learn that the Research Board has disbanded the Task and Finish Group on “Memory and the Law”. This group was set up to update the Society’s guidance on memory, particularly recovered memory. The Society’s previous guidelines, published in 2008, have been archived and no longer represent “advice”, although they are readily available via an Internet search. I am, of course, aware that the subject is contentious but it is quite baffling that the group could not even produce a report acknowledging this.

Memory is both the proper province of psychology application and research, and frequently crucial in the legal arena. Indeed, witnesses’ memories of events, particularly alleged “false” memories, were a significant motivating factor in the Society’s original working parties and reports. Psychologists continue to be called upon as experts in Court cases where witnesses’ memories of events are disputed. The evidence they have given has sometimes proved contentious.

The Board’s decision taken, as I understand it, without consulting other interested parts of the Society, in particular the applied Divisions, would leave a psychologist in Court answering the question of what was their professional body’s view on such memories with the reply “It doesn’t have one”. 

It’s not a good look.

Dr Adrian Skinner

Chartered Psychologist



Professor Daryl O’Connor, Chair, Research Board, responds:

After careful consideration, the BPS Research Board at their October 2020 meeting made the difficult decision to bring the work of the memory-based evidence task and finish group to a close. 

The Group was actually set up to develop a new document, rather than providing an update to the previous guidance. We worked closely with the group to resolve the challenges they faced. Unfortunately, the standards of evidence for the report and the need for consensus and a convergence of evidence from experimental work and clinical practice, as defined within the Terms of Reference for the group, could not be met. 

A meeting of the members involved in the Memory-Based Evidence Task and Finish Group was held in January 2021. This was a constructive and helpful meeting, and the former members of the Task and Finish group agreed a way forward: rather than reconstitute the group they will first work on a series of articles about memory-based evidence for a special issue of a relevant journal. This would allow for a full and definitive review of the ‘state of the art’ of different aspects of evidence-based memory and allow the space to outline where there were controversies as well as clear consensus.  

All guidance is reviewed at two years and five years post-publication. We are currently redeveloping our website and will consider adding an archiving section with a statement on legacy documents to make clear that they do not reflect the BPS’s current position. Previous guidance documents on Memory and the Law (2008; 2010) have been archived as they are five years post-publication.  

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I had actually read O'Connor's "reply" before so if it doesn't look like an answer it wasn't meant to be. Is a "series of articles" equivalent to an official position statement? Will they ever be written? Does this help a psychologist acting as a witness in matters of memory? My answers? No, probably not, and no.

My questions for Daryl O'Connor:

If previous documents "do not reflect the Society's current position" how can members and the public know that when a Google search immediately brings up the 2008 Document at number one entry 

And when City University have it explicitly as a recent reference on their Memory and Law Centre page (director Martin Conway, former Research Board chair and chair of the 2008 group)

Can I also be reassured that the members at the January 2021 meeting were as affably acquiescent as Professor O'Connor implies above?

Adrian Edward G rightly asks:

Does this help a psychologist acting as a witness in matters of memory?

In 2017 I posted a reply to an article in The Psychologist about the role of psychologists as Court Appointed Experts and emailed the editor Jon Sutton with a request to publish it as a Reader’s Letter. Quite the opposite happened – he deleted my submission. So much about ‘stimulating debate’.

Some brave folks at the BPS South-West Branch kindly agreed to publish my submission helping me to iron ought some of its rough edges. This article and 30 related conference presentations can be found on my ResearchGate profile:

I stumbled across a case in 2012 where four Court Appointed Experts claimed a mother was delusional about witnessing a sexual assault on her toddler and that having a baby as a young teenager that ‘disappeared’ was a 'false memory'. All her disclosures pointed towards extremely serious criminality. However, four ‘tame’ mental health professionals commissioned by a Family Court process claimed she was delusional. Out of concerns for social justice, public safety and my ethical duties I commissioned suitably qualified experts to diagnose the mother. All 5 experts found no reasons to doubt the mother’s account of the two key index incidents described above.

At the end of 2013 I visited the location where the toddler’s late godmother had been found ‘on top of roof tiles’ in her remote farmhouse (with broken legs and arm). I found various objects indicative of premediated arson murder seemingly committed with view to commencing an ‘unbelievable’ stalking campaign culminating in a daylight assault on the toddler. The psychiatrist in charge of the Emergency Response Team in the region that the mother was residing admitted while 'diagnosing' the mother to knowing the mother’s family claiming they were into ‘Devil Worship’. He reportedly administered to the mother Electroshock Therapy (ECT) without medical needs around 1997, 2011 and 2013 – basically to ‘fry her brain’ and destroy memories. An arson murder committed with an expectation that Court Appointed Experts will blame 'False Memories' and 'Delusional Thinking'?  All efforts to get these matters properly investigated were thwarted.

Unfortunately, in the light of inadequate BPS Guidelines some Psychologists and Psychiatrists acting as Court Appointed Experts routinely dismiss reports of Child Sexual Abuse. These are matters of life and death!