The case against three men accused of murdering Lois Tolley in 2016 has collapsed. And for the first time, we know about a police interviewing technique dubbed CIPEM.

In 2016, Upper Hutt woman Lois Tolley was killed in what the police at the time described as an ‘execution-style’ murder.

Three years later, in September 2019, a man was charged with murder. Two other men were subsequently arrested and charged. 

But fast-forward to 2022, and the case against all three has fallen over, with a judge ruling evidence – including a confession – had been improperly obtained, and was inadmissible in court. 

Part of the reason for this was a mysterious interviewing technique used by the police to elicit that information: a technique called the Complex Investigation Phased Engagement Model, or CIPEM.

“It’s an interviewing technique or method particularly used in cold cases,” Stuff senior writer Mike White says.

“At its most benign, it’s really simple: it’s about building a relationship with the suspect or interviewee, and putting them at ease, encouraging them to open up.

“It’s been used by the New Zealand Police since 2018, but nothing about it was reported until this year when we were finally able to reveal its use in the Lois Tolley case.”

White describes the interview technique as having more of a ‘fireside chat’ feel than a police interview.

In the case of X – the first man who was arrested for Tolley’s murder, whose name is suppressed – White and colleague Blair Ensor say the man was taken from Rimutaka Prison, where he was in custody on separate charges.

He was taken to another location – one without a table, and with plush chairs – and given McDonald’s to eat.

Two handpicked officers interviewed the man for five hours. He denied any involvement, but eventually suggested four people he thought may have been responsible. 

“The detectives sort of turned this back on X, and said that he’d snitched or narked on these men – one of which was a very close friend of X – and had now put these guys in a lot of trouble.

“X continually denied he’d been involved with the attack and said he was just throwing out thoughts about who might’ve been involved … but now, the police were telling him he’d committed this cardinal sin of narking on others.

“By the third day – the second time the officers had interviewed him face-to-face – X said he’d take it on the chin, and that he had shot Lois Tolley.

“The problem with his confession … was that a lot of what he’d said didn’t actually match the facts of the case.”

The evidence came under scrutiny at a pre-trial hearing in the High Court at Wellington.

White says the resulting judgment by Justice Simon France was damning.

“He slammed numerous breaches of the guidelines governing police interviewing,” White says. 

“The police are saying, it’s not CIPEM, it’s not the technique that was at fault, it was mistakes made by officers in their general interviewing.

“But these were two really senior, really experienced detectives. And the breaches of the guidelines were so numerous, and so serious, that Justice Simon France’s 50-page judgment is absolutely stinging. One of the harshest judgments I’ve ever read.”

White says the police have now opened an inquiry into the Lois Tolley investigation, which is ongoing.

He says he does have sympathy for the police, though: they are trying to get information from people who don’t want to give it to them, and they use novel techniques at their disposal to that end.

But he says the systems and protocols for conducting interviews are there for a reason. 

“It was important that the investigation of Lois Tolley’s murder was held to account, and was really scrutinised, and we didn’t just allow a confession to sail through and be presented to a jury.

“I think this needs to happen all the time, with any investigation. I don’t think we should be afraid of asking questions. The police do a fabulous job, they work incredibly hard, and they aim to get the right person for the right crime. But it’s not going to work all the time. And so we shouldn’t be afraid of questioning them when something isn’t done correctly. 

“I hope the review of this case comes up with some questions for police, and CIPEM – if it’s used in the future – stays within the bounds of the guidelines for interviewing that police have to respect.”

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