Hi, I've written a crime novel called The Confession I'd be really grateful to get some feedback on how accurate this interview scene is. I'm a bit worried that my police sergeant is a bit too sweary, and would a police interview really play out in this way? In this scene, the protagonist Father Bernard has found a witness that casts doubt on the conviction of Matthew Taylor for the murder of Lucas O'Sullivan.
CHAPTER 20. Monday 11th November
Sergeant King rang the following week. ‘I hear you’ve been busy,’ she said. Bernard’s heart sank. He’d meant to call her, he really had, but somehow, other things had got in the way.
‘How did you hear?’ he asked.
‘Matthew Taylor’s solicitor was on the phone this morning. They’re going to appeal the murder conviction, throwing in a complaint of police corruption for good measure. To be honest, it wasn’t the easiest conversation I’ve ever had, not least because I hadn’t a fucking clue what she was on about.’
‘Ah,’ he said. Taylor’s solicitor, a pleasant young woman, had rung him last week, asking for details about Andrzej. He should have realised she’d go straight to the police.
‘Yes, ah. So, if it’s not too much trouble, I’d be very grateful if you could spare us some time out of your busy schedule, and enlighten us about this new witness of yours.’
‘Of course. When-?’
‘And while you’re here, I’d also like a friendly chat about an allegation of theft from your church.’
Bernard groaned. He’d completely forgotten about the juvenile accountant. The lad must’ve given up on him and contacted the police.
‘Of course,’ he said. ‘Anything to help.’
‘Good. I’ll expect you in an hour’s time.’
‘But that means I’ll have to leave straight away.’
‘Precisely,’ she said, ringing off.
The police station was busy. A young, black woman approached him wearing jeans, a scruffy leather jacket and heavy, workmanlike boots. He shrank back in his chair and glanced around in case he needed to call for help. Drug addicts often targeted priests for money, seeing them as easy targets.
How did she know his name? Had she followed him here?
‘Yes, that’s right.’
She offered her hand. ‘Detective Constable Tinubu. Come this way please.’ She waved a card over the door that led to the interior of the building and Bernard sheepishly followed her along a corridor. She stopped beside an anonymous office door and waved him inside.
‘If you could just wait here, DS King will be along in a moment. Can I get you a tea or coffee?’
‘Oh, er, tea please.’
It was a small room, decorated in the same institutional beige as the one in the prison. A large mirror on the far side reflected his quick, nervous survey as if expecting an ambush. Then, because he had no choice, he sat down at the interview table, bare apart from a recording device. Tinubu returned with a steaming disposable cup a few minutes later.
‘Here,’ she said. ‘Sergeant King’s been held up. She said she won’t be long.’
The tea was as bad as he expected but he drank it anyway, his eyes glancing towards the mirror, before sliding away again. Was King’s excuse a lie? Was she sitting on the other side of the glass, watching him right now? It was an uncomfortable thought and he held his cup stiffly, self-conscious as though he were an exhibit at a zoo.
King made him wait for a further ten minutes before she appeared, and listened, unsmiling, as he gave his statement. Afterwards, he expected to be dismissed, but instead she sat for a while, flicking through the papers in her folder.
‘Why didn’t you come to me straight away?’ she said.
‘I thought it was important to let Taylor know as soon as possible.’
‘You mean you wanted to get back in his good books again.’
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
She shook her head. ‘You never did attend the trial, did you? Apart from the day you gave your witness statement, I mean.’
‘So you never heard the full evidence against him.’
‘I read it in the newspapers.’
‘Did you? Or did your eyes glide over the details, not wanting to hear the worst about Matthew Taylor, your beloved Matt?’
‘No, Father, you look,’ she said, cutting across him. ‘Matthew Taylor was, no, still is, a dangerous paedophile. If he was innocent of the boy’s murder, then why did he offer the boy a lift? Why was O’Sullivan’s blood on his watchstrap? Taylor lied when he said he drove straight home. If he was innocent why did we find his tyre tracks in the car park at the top of Piggot’s Hill? Why would anyone go there when it was getting dark? And why was O’Sullivan’s bag lying at the bottom of the hill? Taylor clearly threw it away, trying to dispose of the evidence.’
‘I don’t-’ he began.
‘No, you don’t,’ she said. ‘If you’d had any idea you would have come straight to me and we could have looked into this quietly; now it’ll be a formal investigation.’
‘But what’s wrong with that?’ he said. ‘If Matthew Taylor is innocent of murder, then someone else is, someone who’s still out there, someone who could tell you where they’ve buried Lucas O’Sullivan’s body.’
‘If Matthew Taylor is innocent of murder,’ she said. ‘There’s no guarantee that your witness saw O’Sullivan. It might have been someone else entirely.’ She glanced down at his statement. ‘I remember Nowak. I thought he was a shifty bastard then.’
‘You interviewed him?’
‘Of course. You think we’re amateurs?’
‘No, absolutely not.’
‘Why didn’t Mr Nowak come forward earlier?’ said King.
‘He was frightened in case you thought he’d done it,’ said Bernard reluctantly. He had tried to keep this detail out of his statement, but now realised that it was hopeless, the truth was bound to come out.
‘Why would he think that?’
‘Because he was investigated in Poland for child abuse, but says the charge was dropped.’
King’s nostrils flared as her hand clutched the paperwork.
You missed that didn’t you? Bernard began to feel sorry for her, until he remembered his ordeal with Stephen, and his expression hardened again.
She slowly raised her head to glare at him. ‘And do you have an address for Mr Nowak?’
‘I’m afraid not; I believe he’s homeless, sleeping around friends’ houses.’
‘So how did you find him?’
‘He attends… he used to attend the monthly Polish Mass at St Anne’s.’
Bernard dropped his gaze. ‘I urged him to go to the police, but he refused. I said that this left me no choice but to go to you myself. That’s when he told me that you’d have to find him first. So I doubt if he’ll attend that church again.’
King looked at him in exasperation. ‘Why did you tell him you were going to us?’
‘I had to,’ he said. ‘It would have been dishonest of me not to.’
‘So now we have to waste our time searching for every acquaintance of your elusive witness. Well, you can help us, Father. Before you leave the station, I would like a list from you giving me the name and address of every person you think who might know Mr Nowak.’
‘Of course, although it won’t be very long.’
‘And since we’re reopening the investigation, we will need to re-interview you at some point to discuss your original statement.’
‘If you wish, although I’m not sure what I can add. The road was empty that day; I saw no one until I reached Newbridge.’
‘Is that so?’ she said, rearranging her face into a smile that had no congruence at any point with humour. ‘Perhaps you’d care to explain why Mr Taylor is now claiming that Lucas O’Sullivan left your room at Holy Trinity House while everyone was packing up to leave. I’ve read your statement again but can’t find anything there about this.’
‘How can I help you?’ he said, throwing his bag to the floor. Lucas slumped down on the edge of the bed while Bernard carefully seated himself on the chair opposite, waiting for him to speak. And waited. But, now that he was here, Lucas seemed in no hurry to say anything. Bernard casually tugged his sleeve away from his wrist, eyes darting between his watch and the door. Lucas really shouldn’t be here, alone, with him, and he felt twitchy, torn between his anxiety over Lucas- for he had never seen him look so miserable before- and wishing him to have his say and go.
‘Is there anything-?’
‘I’m gay,’ he blurted out.
‘Ah,’ said Bernard, thinking I know where this is going. He wasn’t the first boy, confused and worried by his sexuality, to ask for help. Bernard had always tried to be kind. No, of course God still loves you, you’re not a sinner. Sin is a verb, not a noun, it’s not who you are but what you do. Don’t do anything and you’ll be fine.
Sometimes they listened, sometimes they argued. The worst were the ones who nodded in agreement, hollow-eyed, quietly despairing. He tried to be kind, but he had let them down, every single one of them.
He stared at Lucas; it was like staring into the mirror of his fifteen-year old self, and his heart juddered with sorrow.
‘Are you sure?’
Lucas tried to laugh. ‘I’ve been sure since I was ten.’
‘Have you told your parents?’
‘My Mum. She told Dad. I couldn’t.’
Bernard nodded sadly. He’d never managed to tell his parents; instead, they’d heard elsewhere.
‘How can I help you, Lucas?’
‘Taylor’s lying,’ said Bernard, regretting his words as soon as they spilled from his mouth.
‘Is he?’ said King. ‘You stood up in court and swore on the Bible that the evidence you gave was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You do understand the penalties for perjury don’t you?’
‘I never lied on oath,’ he whispered. But what about lies of omission?
King stared at him. When he remained silent, she said, ‘If your witness really did see Lucas O’Sullivan that evening, then we will have to reopen the whole case, and that means going back over every witness statement we took at the time. If it turns out that you were lying to us, then rest assured, I will throw the book at you for at the very least, wasting police time. Now, would you like to reconsider what you just told me?’ She waved to the recording device. ‘It’s not on. And I know how people can panic and say the wrong thing by accident. Did you see Lucas O’Sullivan alone that afternoon? Did you stop and pick him up after he walked back from Taylor’s car?’
Bernard’s hands twisted together in his lap. ‘No.’
King sighed. ‘So be it.’
‘Is that all?’ he said, starting to rise.
‘Not quite. Please sit down, Father.’ The door opened and Tinubu entered. ‘DC Tinubu will be assisting me in this interview.’
‘What interview? Haven’t we finished?’
King didn’t reply, instead she leaned towards the recording device by the wall and clicked it on, giving their names, date and time before attending to him once more.
‘You do not have to say anything. But, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.
‘This is a voluntary interview. We would like to question you regarding your suspected involvement in the theft of money from St.Anthony’s church in Newbridge. You are not under arrest and are not obliged to remain here. If you do consent to this interview, you are free to leave at any time unless, during the course of this interview, new information comes to light and it is deemed necessary to arrest you.’
His jaw dropped, and a cold snake began to uncurl somewhere deep within. What was going on?
‘You are entitled to legal representation. Do you wish to call a solicitor?’
‘Do I need one?’ he said, coughing because his voice had come out in a squeak.
‘That’s entirely up to you. If you do say yes then I’m afraid you’re likely to be here all day since it’ll take a little while to arrange. Look, Father, this is just a quick interview to hear your side of the story. I’m sure you want to clear your name as quickly as possible.’
‘Clear my name?’
His eyes flicked from side to side as he tried to stifle an urge to run. It had been forty two years since he’d last been in a police cell.
He blinked and saw King and Tinubu exchange a glance.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘can you repeat the question?’
‘Do you consent to taking part in this interview and would you like a solicitor?’
He shrank from their stony faces and tugged his collar. It felt strangely tight.
‘Yes. Yes, I consent to being interviewed.’
‘And a lawyer?’
I can’t ask for a lawyer it’ll make me look guilty. What if word of this gets out? Anyway, it’s too late, the interview’s already started now. Oh, let’s just get it over and done with.
‘No, it’s all right.’
‘Would you like to give a reason why, for the record?’
‘Because I’m innocent.’
King’s answering smile was a predatory thing, the smile of a wolf upon spotting its prey.
‘Have you ever taken money from the collection plate?’ said Tinubu.
‘No, of course not. The very idea is absurd.’
‘If I were to tell you that we a witness who claims to have seen you remove money from the collection plate on at least three separate occasions, on…’ King looked down at her notes and rattled of a series of dates. ‘Would you care to reconsider your answer?’
‘No. They didn’t. They can’t have, because it’s not true. What witness?’
‘I’m afraid I can’t reveal that.’
Bernard groaned as it all became clear. ‘It’s Owen Davies isn’t it?’ he said.
‘What makes you say that?’ asked King.
‘Because I confronted him about all of this.’ And he proceeded to explain about his meeting with the diocesan accountant and his trawl through the parish finances.
‘Have a look at the spreadsheet then you’ll see what I mean.’
Tinubu cleared her throat. ‘Where can we find it?’
He looked at her in surprise. ‘On the computer in the parish office, of course.’
‘Unfortunately, when our team attempted to look for this computer an hour ago, they found that it had disappeared.’
‘What?’ A host of questions erupted in his mind. ‘Don’t you need a warrant?’ He asked, eventually.
‘We have a one,’ said King. ‘We sent it to the bishop’s office this morning.’
Bernard removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. He’d been wondering how to tell Bishop Stephen about the theft. It looked as though the decision had been taken out of his hands.
‘Can you tell us where the computer is?’ asked King.
He shook his head.
‘Aloud, for the recording, please.’
‘No, I don’t know where it is,’ he said. ‘The last time I saw it was a couple of days ago.’
‘Who has keys to the parish office?’
He started to reel off a list of names. ‘And Owen Davies,’ he said finally, capping the list.
King raised an eyebrow but made no comment.
Bernard, who had been slumped in his chair, sat up straight as he remembered something else. ‘What about the parish ledger?’ he said.
‘The parish ledger. It’s where we used to record the collections by hand.’
‘We finally stopped using it a couple of years ago. But you should still be able to track the start of it all.’
‘And where will we find this ledger?’
‘It’s in my desk, in the presbytery. My house.’
King glanced at Tinubu who shook her head.
Bernard’s eyes widened in a slow blossoming horror. ‘You searched the presbytery too? My home?’ he whispered. He felt violated.
King cleared her throat. ‘Constable Tinubu will give you a list of all the items we’ve removed.’
‘Mostly bank statements,’ said Tinubu. ‘Nothing that resembled a bank ledger.’
‘So does anyone else have keys to the presbytery?’ asked King.
Bernard shook his head in confusion. ‘No, I don’t think so.’
‘So how do you explain the disappearance of the ledger?’ said King.
‘I can’t,’ he said. ‘Someone must’ve taken it, but I don’t know how.’ An image flashed before him of the drawer in his desk containing a jumble of miscellaneous keys that he never got around to sorting. Mostly keys to the surprisingly large number of rooms and cupboards in the church. Were there any spares to the presbytery too? He’d never noticed.
An hour later, he was finally free to go.
‘Thank you for your cooperation, Father,’ said King. ‘You are being released under investigation. Please don’t travel anywhere; you may be called back to give further evidence at any time.’
Bernard nodded and hurried away. There was only one place he wanted to go, and it wasn’t very far.