Last month I was in the unenviable position of having to make a written statement about a safeguarding concern. I was at a charity event surrounded by a lot of vulnerable adults, and I saw behaviour that could only be described as inappropriate. One person was essentially imposing their will on another, who was plainly uncomfortable with it but did not have the capacity to respond. Nothing illegal, but nonetheless – in my layman’s opinion – abusive.
I reported this, and was asked to write a statement. No problem, I thought; I can write! So I set to …
… and then I had to pause and think.
I won’t deny that I had already taken an active dislike to the perpetrator on the grounds of general obnoxiousness (theirs), and it would not have displeased me to see them be rebuked. So I had to ask myself, did I actually see that, or was my mind filling in the blanks? Did I just want this to be true?
In the end, I had to rein it in … a bit. I simply couldn’t put hand on heart and say I had seen what I remembered seeing. So, I stuck to what I absolutely knew, the bits that still made it through the filter of questioning and verifying, and which could be confirmed by others. To cut a long story short, it was upheld and action was taken.
That was one memory, being written down within 48 hours of the event. You might approach one of us to help with a memoir of a hundred or more memories, many years after the event. So, don’t be offended if we occasionally come back to you with a question or two.
Our default will be to believe you. It’s your story, not ours; you were there, we weren’t. Still, the more personal (or traumatic) the memories, the more a simple question can sound like you being not believed, and the more distressing that can be. We are not hostile barristers paid to cast doubt on your story; but, we do however have a duty both to you and to the reading public to get your story straight. And the last thing you want is for your story to reach the public and only then be torn apart because of the inconsistencies.
Some purely made-up examples of what you might clearly remember:
- The sun got in your eyes while you were driving up the M11 towards Cambridge at lunchtime. But that would mean you were heading due north at a time when the sun was due south.
- Your parents took you to see For Your Eyes Only as a fourteenth birthday treat. But that movie came out in 1981 and you were 14 in 1979.
- You shared your misgivings about the company with your colleague Helen at your first Christmas party there. But, later you say Helen didn’t join the company until the year you left.
All of those have perfectly reasonable explanations (the sun shone in my mirror; maybe it was Moonraker you went to see; you’re right, I mentioned it to her at the staff summer party). And even if you can’t quite pin it down, unlike a court case, it’s perfectly acceptable to respond with “I don’t entirely remember” or “I know my actions made no sense”. If that happens then it’s our job to help you phrase your story in the best way that still conveys your conviction. Very often, a bit of gentle probing and questioning can lead to clarification and an even stronger case.
In short: work with us!